US Boots 15 Cuban Diplomats out of Washington

FIGHTING FUND

The United States ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats on Tuesday, accusing Havana of failing to protect their U.S. counterparts from harm in a series of mystery "attacks" on their health.

Tillerson said the U.S.is maintaining diplomatic relations and will cooperate with Cuba while the investigation continues.

Tillerson said the decision was made 'due to Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats'.

A source familiar with these incidents says officials are investigating whether the diplomats were targets of a type of sonic attack directed at their homes, which were provided by the Cuban government.

The 15 Cuban diplomats being expelled is about the same percentage being withdrawn from the U.S. Embassy, officials said, though the actual number of personnel ordered to leave Havana has not been disclosed. It comes as the United States seeks to protect its own diplomats from unexplained attacks that have harmed at least 21 Americans in Havana with ailments that affected their hearing, cognition, balance, and vision.

The decision is aimed at keeping parity in staffing levels after the USA ordered more than half its diplomats and their families to leave the island 29 September following the unexplained incidents, which left staff with hearing loss, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, a State Department official, who asked not to be identified, briefed reporters.

Mr Tillerson said the USA is maintaining diplomatic relations and will cooperate with Cuba while the investigation continues.

The moves deliver a significant blow to the rapprochement between the Washington and Havana that was launched by Barack Obama and Cuba's president Raúl Castro in 2015.

"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe USA citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba", the USA said in a travel warning.

Neither the FBI nor a separate Cuba investigation has been able to determine what and who is causing the maladies that have befallen at least 22 Americans stationed at the embassy, with symptoms ranging from hearing loss to cognitive disorders.

United States officials said they are convinced someone has been targeting the diplomats and they are investigating whether some type of sonic weapon could have been used in the attacks. The State Department has not directly blamed Havana for them but asked two Cuban diplomats to leave Washington in May.

In Friday's travel warning urging Americans not to visit Cuba, the State Department confirmed earlier reporting by the AP that U.S. personnel first encountered unexplained physical effects in Cuban hotels.

The State Department announced on Friday that in addition to drawing down staff in Havana to essential personnel, the embassy was halting regular visa operations for Cubans seeking to visit the United States and would offer only emergency services to US citizens. In recent weeks the State Department had said there were 21 individuals "medically confirmed" to be affected by attacks that harmed their hearing, cognition, balance and vision, some with diagnoses as serious as brain injury. The departing Americans are expected to have all left Cuba by week's end, officials said.

The State Department said that it would need assurances that the attacks would not continue before allowing the Cuban diplomats back.

The head of North American affairs at Cuba's foreign ministry, Josefina Vidal, earlier told state television that Cuba wants to work with the United States to resolve this case.

"We are not assigning culpability", said a State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under administration guidelines for briefing the media.

"The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the U.S. government's intelligence network on the communist-run island in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half century", the AP three declared.

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