Office of the Spokesperson
The following statement was released by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau.
We welcome the announcement that Venezuelan-led, comprehensive negotiations will soon begin in Mexico City, Mexico. We hope this process will lead to the restoration of the country’s democratic institutions and allow for all Venezuelans to express themselves politically through free and fair local, parliamentary, and presidential elections. We urge all parties to engage in good faith to reach enduring agreements that lead to a comprehensive solution to the Venezuelan crisis. The forces of the democratic opposition have worked hard to build a Unitary Platform, and we recognize the need for such unity to advance these negotiations. We appreciate the Kingdom of Norway’s constructive role in facilitating these negotiations.
We continue to call for the unconditional release of all those unjustly detained for political reasons, for the independence of political parties, for freedom of expression including for members of the press, and for an end to human rights abuses.
We call for electoral conditions that abide by international standards for democracy, beginning with the local and regional elections scheduled for November 2021.
We remain committed to supporting the Venezuelan people and to addressing Venezuela’s dire humanitarian crisis. We welcome further agreement among all political actors in Venezuela to allow for unfettered and transparent access to humanitarian assistance, to include food, medicine, vaccines, and other critical COVID-19 relief supplies.
We reiterate our willingness to review sanctions policies if the regime makes meaningful progress in the announced talks.
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- Security Force Assistance: U.S. Advising of Afghan National Army Has Expanded since 2015, and the U.S. Army Has Deployed a New Advising UnitBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has used a variety of approaches to provide advisors in Afghanistan. For example, the United States has often relied on individual personnel drawn from across the military services to advise Afghan security forces. In 2012, the Army began pulling senior leaders and other personnel with specific ranks and skills from active-duty brigades to form advisor teams. In October 2016, the U.S. Army approved the development of a new force structure to use in advising foreign security forces--the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). GAO found that the U.S. advising approach for the Afghan National Army (ANA) under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces--known as Resolute Support--has evolved since 2015 from advising the ANA primarily at the corps level, ministries, and institutions to include tactical-level advising with the ability to accompany the ANA on combat operations with certain limitations. This evolution of the advising approach since 2015 has included three key changes over time: 1. A geographic expansion of advising, and adjustment to originally planned force reductions. 2. Expansion of expeditionary advising and a related increase of U.S. forces. 3. A shift in strategy to allow U.S. forces to accompany and enable ANA tactical units. To support this expanded mission, the military services provided advisors and other personnel, with the Army providing the largest increases. For example, the U.S. Air Force continued to provide advisors from the ministerial down to the tactical level, and the U.S. Marine Corps returned to an advising role in Afghanistan in April 2017, from which it had previously departed in late 2014. The U.S. Army also provided additional personnel as part of an increase in forces approved in 2017, and in early 2018 deployed the first of its new Security Force Assistance Brigades--the 1st SFAB--as part of the over 1,700 Army personnel provided during the year to bolster the advisory mission. DOD's decision to deploy the 1st SFAB resulted in an acceleration of the new unit's planned deployment timelines by at least 8 months, which, combined with other decisions, resulted in several challenges. These challenges included issues related to manning and training the SFAB and providing sufficient enabling forces to support the SFAB's mission in Afghanistan. According to Army officials, the Army is collecting lessons learned from experiences manning, training, and deploying the 1st SFAB to inform the continued development and institutionalization of the SFAB. Why GAO Did This Study Senate Report 115-125 included a provision for GAO to review U.S. advising efforts. This report describes (1) the evolution of the U.S. approach for advising in Afghanistan under Resolute Support, and (2) actions the U.S. military services have taken and plan to take to meet the additional advisor requirements for Afghanistan, and any challenges they may be experiencing. The scope of this work focuses on U.S. efforts to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces under Resolute Support--particularly ANA conventional ground forces. GAO reviewed and analyzed military plans, guidance, and other documents; interviewed officials from DOD and across the military services; and reviewed documentation and other information pertaining to the development, training, and deployment of the SFAB.[Read More…]
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- 2020 Census: Census Bureau Needs to Assess Data Quality Concerns Stemming from Recent Design ChangesBy Sam NewsDecember 3, 2020The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) responded to COVID-19 in multiple phases. The Bureau first suspended field operations in March 2020 for two successive 2-week periods to promote the safety of its workforce and the public. In April 2020, the Bureau extended this suspension to a total of 3 months for Non-response Follow-up (NRFU), the most labor-intensive decennial field operation that involves hundreds of thousands of enumerators going door-to-door to collect census data from households that have not yet responded to the census. At that time, the Department of Commerce also requested from Congress a 120-day extension to statutory deadlines providing census data for congressional apportionment and redistricting purposes, and the Bureau developed and implemented plans to deliver the population counts by those requested deadlines. The Bureau implemented NRFU in multiple waves between July 16 and August 9, 2020, to ensure that operational systems and procedures were ready for nationwide use. The Bureau considered COVID-19 case trends, the availability of personal protective equipment, and the availability of staff in deciding which areas to start NRFU first. On August 3, 2020, the Bureau announced that, as directed by the Secretary of Commerce, it would accelerate its operational timeframes to deliver population counts by the original statutory deadlines. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in September 2020 issued an injunction that reversed the Secretary's August 2020 directions for design changes and the Bureau's adherence to the statutory deadlines, but the Supreme Court ultimately stayed this injunction in October 2020 and allowed the Bureau to proceed with its August 2020 design changes. As a result, the Bureau shortened NRFU by over 2 weeks and reduced the time allotted for response processing after NRFU from 153 days to 77 days. GAO has previously noted that late design changes create increased risk for a quality census. The Bureau is examining ways to share quality indicators of the census in the near term and has a series of planned operational assessments, coverage measurement exercises, and data quality teams that are positioned to retrospectively study the effects of design changes made in the response to COVID-19 on census data quality. The Bureau is still in the process of updating its plans for these efforts to examine the range of operational modifications made in response to COVID-19, including the August 2020 and later changes. As part of the Bureau's assessments, it will be important to address a number of concerns GAO identified about how late changes to the census design could affect data quality. These concerns range from how the altered time frames have affected population counts during field data collection to what effects, if any, compressed and streamlined post-data collection processing of census data may have on the Bureau's ability to detect and fully address processing or other errors before releasing the apportionment and redistricting tabulations. Addressing these concerns as part of the overall 2020 assessment will help the Bureau ensure public confidence in the 2020 Census and inform future census planning efforts. As the Bureau was mailing out invitations to respond to the decennial census and was preparing for fieldwork to count nonresponding households, much of the nation began closing down to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the Bureau has made a series of changes to the design of the census. Understanding the chronology of events and the Bureau's decisions, along with the factors and information sources that it considered, can help to shed light on the implications and tradeoffs of the Bureau's response. This report, the first in a series of retrospective reviews on the 2020 Census, examines the key changes that the Bureau made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and how those changes affect the cost and quality of the census. GAO performed its work under the authority of the Comptroller General to conduct evaluations on the 2020 Census to assist Congress with its oversight responsibilities. GAO reviewed Bureau decision memos, interviewed Bureau officials, and consulted contemporaneous COVID-19 case data for context on the Bureau's COVID-19 response. GAO is recommending that the Bureau update and implement its assessments to address data quality concerns identified in this report, as well as any operational benefits. In its comments, the Department of Commerce agreed with GAO's findings and recommendation. The Bureau also provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact J. Christopher Mihm at (202) 512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Nick Marinos at 202-512-9342 or by email at email@example.com.[Read More…]
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