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Trump names new national security adviser amid US protests

On President's Day, anti-Trump activists organised 'Not My Presidents Day' rallies
In New York, hundreds of protesters stretching at least eight blocks chanted "He cheats, he lies, open up your eyes" near the Trump International Hotel (Reuters)

President Donald Trump on Monday named Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, while demonstrations against him took place across the country.

On Monday, anti-Trump activists took advantage of the federal public holiday, dedicated to US presidents, to organise "Not My Presidents Day" rallies in a number of cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, DC.

In New York, hundreds of protesters stretching at least eight blocks chanted "He cheats, he lies, open up your eyes" near the Trump International Hotel on the edge of Central Park.

Qamar Khan, a 26-year-old medical school student from Pakistan, said he wanted to voice disagreement with Trump's policies.

"We are not protesting. We are Muslims. We want to spread the message of peace and love, true Islam. I do obey President Trump as our president, but I don't have to agree with his policies."

The idea for Presidents Day protests originated in Los Angeles, where about 4,300 people had said on Facebook they would attend a City Hall rally, according to organisers, and it spread to other locales via social media.

In downtown Chicago, about 1,200 people gathered across the Chicago River from the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Signs spotted in the crowd included “My body my choice” and “Jesus was a refugee,” references to Trump's anti-abortion stance and his efforts to stop admission of refugees into the US.

Recent anti-Trump protests have included a "general strike" on Friday, a day after thousands of immigrants across the United States stayed away from work and school to highlight the contributions of foreign-born residents to the US economy.

As protests continued across the country, Trump's selection for national security adviser, Raymond McMaster, surprised some observers who wondered how the military man, who is known for questioning authority, would deal with a White House that has not welcomed criticism.

"He is highly respected by everybody in the military and we're very honoured to have him," Trump told reporters in West Palm Beach where he spent the weekend. "He's a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."

Raymond McMaster

McMaster replaces a Trump loyalist. Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was fired as national security adviser on 13 February after reports emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about speaking to Russia's ambassador about US sanctions before Trump's inauguration.

His resignation, coming so early in Trump's administration, was another upset for a White House that has been hit by miscues, including the controversial rollout of a travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries since the Republican president took office on 20 January.

Trump also named Keith Kellogg, a retired US Army General who had been serving as acting national security adviser, as chief of staff to the National Security Council. John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, would serve the administration in another capacity, Trump said.

Kellogg and Bolton were among those in contention as Trump spent the Presidents Day long weekend considering his options for replacing Flynn. His first choice, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, turned down the job last week.

The national security adviser is an independent aide to the president and does not require confirmation by the US Senate. The role has varied from administration to administration, but the adviser attends National Security Council meetings along with the heads of the State Department, the Department of Defense and key security agencies.

McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate known as "H.R.," with a PhD in US history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2014, partly because of his willingness to buck the system.

A combat veteran, he gained renown in the first Gulf War - and was awarded a Silver Star - after he commanded a small troop of the US 2nd Army Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a much larger Iraqi Republican Guard force in 1991 in a place called 73 Easting, for its map coordinates, in what many consider the biggest tank battle since World War Two.

As one fellow officer put it, referring to Trump's inner circle of aides and speaking on condition of anonymity, the Trump White House "has its own Republican Guard, which may be harder for him to deal with than the Iraqis were". The Iraqi Republican Guard was the elite military force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

When McMaster was promoted to general from colonel, he commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment that captured, held and began to stabilise Tal Afar on the Iraqi-Syrian border in 2005.

The city was held by Sunni militants, a crossing point between Syria and Iraq for fighters who started as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and morphed into the Islamic State (IS) group after he was killed.

McMaster's preparation of the regiment is legendary. He trained his soldiers in Iraqi culture, the differences among Sunnis, Shias and Turkomen, and had them read books on the history of the region and counter-insurgency strategy.

It was a sharp change from the "kill and capture" tactics the United States had used in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, and to which the Obama administration returned in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The strategy was largely a success, although McMaster's use of it and especially his willingness to acknowledge that Iraqis had legitimate grievances against one another and the occupying coalition forces, did not endear him to his superiors and helped delay his promotion to brigadier general.

The strategy did not survive the departure of McMaster's troops, with Tal Afar falling into the hands of Sunni militants. Along with the west part of Mosul, it is now a key objective in the battle to rid Iraq of IS.

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