US opens new embassy in Chad amid travel ban outcry

US opens new embassy in Chad amid travel ban outcry
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The U.S. on Monday officially opened a new embassy in Chad, just weeks after facing pushback for including the African country, a key counterterrorism ally, in President Trump’s new travel ban.

The dedication is an “important symbol of our enduring partnership with the people of the Republic of Chad,” the State Department said in a statement.

The multibuilding complex is situated on a 12-acre site southeast of downtown N’Djamena and includes a chancery, U.S. Marine Corps residence, warehouse, shops, utility building and facilities for the embassy community, according to the State Department.

The brand new facility, which has an energy-efficient design and incorporates numerous sustainable features, also includes a permanent art collection that showcases works by contemporary American and Chadian artists.

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Construction on the $225 million project began in 2015. Operations moved to the new embassy complex this summer, but officials formally dedicated the building on Monday.

U.S. Ambassador Geeta Pasi, Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Ambassador William Moser and Chadian government officials were all involved in the dedication.

But the move comes as the White House has faced scrutiny for including Chad, a reliable counterterrorism ally in Africa, in Trump’s latest travel ban.

Last month, the White House replaced Trump’s 90-day travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries with a more targeted, indefinite list of restrictions on visitors from certain nations.

Senior administration officials said the countries included on the new list were unable, or unwilling, to comply with new U.S. information-sharing requirements that aim to make vetting processes stronger and advance the nation's national security interests.

Chad was not targeted by Trump’s initial travel ban. The new restrictions for travelers from Chad are set to take effect on Wednesday.

The administration included the country at the recommendation of Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, who wrote a classified report saying Chad had not done enough to combat Islamic extremists.

Trump's proclamation says that travel from Chad will be limited because the country “does not adequately share public safety and terrorism-related information and fails to satisfy at least one key risk criterion.”

The president had asked other federal agencies to weigh in on the decision. The New York Times reported that the State Department and Pentagon were worried that including Chad on the list could have negative consequences for American interests in the country and the fight against terror groups in the region.

Chad has been a key ally in fighting against terror groups in Africa, even helping its neighbor Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram.

Stephen Miller, senior policy adviser to the president, reportedly encouraged Trump to listen to Duke's deliberation and include all nations, including Chad, in the ban.

But embassy officials expressed confusion over the decision, administration officials who deal with the Africa portfolio felt frustrated and several defense officials at the Pentagon also appeared angry that the decision could hurt relationships and long-term interests in the region, according to the report.

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster acknowledged the "real debate" about adding Chad to the list, but said at a Washington conference that the list is "not fixed."

“We laid out a very clear baseline of the information we needed from all countries, and all countries were measured equally to determine whether they met that baseline,” a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman told the Times.

Senior officials have emphasized that the new restrictions are conditional. If countries improve their information-sharing practices, the restrictions could be lifted, while new nations could also be added to the ban in the future. 

Changes to the list can be made on a rolling basis, with the DHS required to submit a report to the White House every 180 days about whether the ban should be kept in place or altered.