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Trump misfires on Middle East, bars transgender soldiers from army

Donald Trump's (L) scandals, gaffes and controversial announcements have marred his presidency [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 July, 2017

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Trump showed a lack of understanding of Lebanon's political realities, then made a controversial announcement that could possibly see thousands of US transgendered soldiers expelled from the army

President Donald Trump is not up to speed on who’s fighting whom in the Middle East.

The president wrongly credited the Lebanese government with fighting Hizballah when he heaped praise on its prime minister at the White House on Tuesday. Hizballah, an Islamist political party with a militant faction, actually is a partner in Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government.

“Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hizballah,” Trump said in a news conference with Hariri. “The Lebanese people, of all faiths, are working together to keep — and you know this, and we’ve been discussing this at great length — their country safe and prosperous.”

The Lebanese government is indeed fighting against the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda. But so is Hizballah. Fighters from the powerful Iranian-backed group are leading a military offensive to wipe out Sunni extremists from IS and al-Qaida from areas along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

And the Lebanese government is not confronting Hizballah militarily, as Trump said, but rather reliant on it to stay in power.

It holds two seats in his cabinet, as it has in previous governments. While Hariri is opposed to Hizballah’s policies, particularly its decision to send fighters to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria, he has a power-sharing relationship with the group, without whose approval he would not be able to govern. Hizballah also holds considerable influence in the country’s parliament.

Pentagon officials appeared blindsided by Trump's tweets, with spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis referring questions to the White House.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that transgender people may not serve "in any capacity" in the US military, citing the "tremendous medical costs and disruption" their presence would cause.

The announcement served as a stunning reversal for the US military, which has been working with the heads of service branches to implement a plan put in place under Barack Obama's administration to start accepting transgender recruits.

"After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US Military," Trump tweeted.

"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."

Pentagon officials appeared blindsided by Trump's tweets, with spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis referring questions to the White House.

"We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future," Davis said.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is currently on vacation. When pressed on the extent to which Trump consulted with him or the Pentagon, Davis said only: "This was something that was the product of consultation."

Last month, Mattis said the five armed service branches could delay accepting transgender recruits until January 1 because the different services were not in agreement on when to accept transgender recruits.

Trump's announcement left unanswered a slew of questions, including whether transgender personnel currently serving could soon face getting booted from the military.

Trump's announcement left unanswered a slew of questions, including whether transgender personnel currently serving could soon face getting booted from the military.

Estimates of the number of transgender troops vary widely. A much-cited study by the Rand Corporation in June 2016 found there are between 1,320 and 6,630 among the 1.3 million active duty service members.

But the Human Rights Campaign civil rights organisation said there are currently about 15,000 active transgender troops.

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