The Cable

Why Is Chad in Trump’s New Travel Ban?

Experts are puzzled by Trump’s decision to include a U.S. counterterrorism ally in the new travel restrictions.

HANGZHOU, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 4:  Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno attends the opening ceremony of the G20 Summit on September 4, 2016 in Hangzhou, China. World leaders are gathering for the 11th G20 Summit from September 4-5. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein - Pool/Getty Images)
HANGZHOU, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 4: Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno attends the opening ceremony of the G20 Summit on September 4, 2016 in Hangzhou, China. World leaders are gathering for the 11th G20 Summit from September 4-5. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein - Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump announced a new travel ban Sunday to replace the old one, which expired over the weekend and targeted six Muslim-majority nations. The new ban, which the White House called a “critical step toward establishing an immigration system that protects Americans’ safety and security in an era of dangerous terrorism and transnational crime,” restricts travel from eight countries in all: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.

The bans on Venezuela and North Korea are less jarring because of the heightened diplomatic tensions and already-existing sanctions on the two nations. But experts are befuddled by the decision to include Chad, one of America’s closest counter-terrorism partners in Africa.

“I’m scratching my head about this decision,” said Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic International Studies. “I’m not going to even try to make sense of this one,” he added.

The central African nation, bordered by countries mired in conflict and revolt such as Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, plays a big role regionally in the fight against terrorism. It houses the headquarters and provides troops for the multinational task force fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram. Additionally, Chad houses the headquarters for the French counterterrorism mission in the region and is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a U.S.-led project that aims to address “terrorist threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism” in the region.

The administration has suspended entry of Chadian nationals into the United States, citing the country’s failure to “adequately share public-safety and terrorism related information,” as well as the fact that “several terrorist groups are active” within the country.

While it’s possible Chad may be skimping in its sharing of data and information, Downie said such evidence was not a distinguishable factor. “I’m sure Chad is not the only country that is not providing satisfactory information,” he said.

The confusion around what caused the White House to take such drastic foreign-policy measures remains a frustrating part of the decision.

“I can only surmise that there were concrete criteria that were demanded of any country wishing to maintain normal visa and immigration arrangements with the United States for a broad group of countries with concerns about extremists … and that Chad for whatever reason failed to comply (or to finish formal procedures or paperwork on time, perhaps),” Michael O’Hanlon, an African security expert at Brookings wrote in an email, adding he was really just guessing.

O’Hanlon called for a candid approach to such decision-making, saying, “I think it is important to have clear, transparent criteria and apply them consistently.”

Downie added that the ban would only harm coordination between the Pentagon and Chad, saying it “cannot be anything but damaging to a bilateral relationship.”

Experts say Trump’s new ban will be harder to challenge in court because the additions of Venezuela and North Korea to the list distances the policy from Trump’s anti-Muslim comments on the campaign trail. His first two efforts at implementing a travel ban were struck down by federal courts.

The new travel policies are slated to take effect on October 18 and will be in place indefinitely.  

Photo credit: MARK SCHIEFELBEIN-Pool/Getty Images

Ruby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy. @RubyMellen

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