Chad's inclusion in President Donald Trump's most recent version of the travel ban doesn't "make any sense" and could be a "total humiliation" to America's "most important security partner in the region," according a former U.S. ambassador to the African nation.
"I was totally shocked by that. I don't understand the reasons for it... This ban doesn't seem to make any sense to me in terms of how strong a partner they are," former Ambassador James Knight said in an exclusive interview with Code and Dagger. "I don't know what the basis of the decision was... [But] I have no knowledge of any features of their exchange of information with us that would justify this.
"I don't understand it," he said, echoing the reported opinion of regional experts.
When adding Chad to its revised travel ban Sunday, the White House alleged that the central African nation "does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information and fails to satisfy at least one key risk criterion."
Knight, a former career foreign service officer who was U.S. Ambassador to Chad from June 2013 to August 2016, said when it comes to information-sharing, at least in his experience, "that's not been true."
"During my time there, there was never indication that information that was important to us was withheld," he said.
The White House rationale also said "several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM]."
That's true, but the "or" part of that sentence is to be emphasized. Knight said those groups generally operate in neighboring nations and for the most part have been pushed out of Chad by the Chadian military.
"In my view, they were the strongest partner we had... In my view, they had the best army in Africa, the most effective one. And they were more willing to be aggressive in the fight, particularly against [Nigeria-based Islamist group] Boko Haram," Knight said, already slipping into the past tense as far as U.S.-Chadian relations go.
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, which maintains a short summary on its website about the major terror groups around the world, features no terrorist organizations operating in Chad, but several on its borders in just about every direction.
"I frequently heard... that Chad was an island of stability surrounded by instability and that was true," Knight said.
Knight said Chad's inclusion in the ban is likely a "total humiliation" to the local government. In response to the ban, the Chadian government reportedly released a statement asking Trump to reconsider a decision that "seriously undermines the image of Chad and the good relations between the two countries."
"The Chadian Government expresses its incomprehension in the face of the official reasons behind this decision," the statement added, according to The Washington Post, "reasons that contrast with the efforts and the ongoing commitments of Chad in the fight against terrorism."
Knight acknowledged there could always be classified reasons for the White House's decision -- perhaps referenced by the administration's contention that Chad "fails to satisfy at least one key risk criterion" -- but he said he would be surprised if there were "significant failures on the part of the Chadians" to justify such a harsh security measure.
Knight said the relationship between the U.S. and Chad can always be salvaged, but now it will require a "consolidated effort" from the U.S. government.
"I can't imagine a bigger surprise in terms of diplomacy, for such a good partner," he said. "This is really surprising... The fact that Chad could be punished like that...
"Terrorism is too important to us for this kind of carelessness. I hope that wasn't the case," he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on Chad's inclusion in the travel ban.
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