United States expels 15 Cuban embassy staff amid escalating tensions

A vintage car drives by the US Embassy in Havana the staff at which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said would be reduced to a minimum

The State Department told Cuba on Tuesday to withdraw more than half of its diplomats from Washington, another sign of deteriorating ties as the Trump administration tries to determine what happened to more than 20 USA diplomats who suffered dizziness, hearing loss and other symptoms while serving in Havana.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S.is working to "ensure equity" between the United States and Cuba by kicking out 15 of its diplomats.

"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 formal travel warning. "We are maintaining diplomatic relations with Havana.", the official said.

The decision came as the US told citizens not to visit Cuba and after it removed more than half of its staff from the Cuban capital of Havana.

US investigators, including FBI agents, have been trying to determine what has caused the injuries, which include hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, headache, fatigue, and cognitive issues.

The only blame the statement placed on Cuba was by noting that "the Government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel and USA citizens in Cuba", implying that Cuba has failed to fulfill this responsibility.

After months of reports of diplomatic personnel in Cuba experiencing odd symptoms like hearing loss and nausea because of mysterious attacks - possibly made by a sonic device - the us chose to pull all non-essential diplomatic personnel from Cuba and stop issuing visas to Cubans.

Havana blasted the USA order, calling it "reckless" and "hasty".

Cuba, the United States and Canada have investigated the attacks, but the probes have not yielded any answers about how they were carried out or who was responsible.

According to the AP report, America had stationed "roughly 50 workers" at the Havana embassy, meaning that almost half of these suffered symptoms of the acoustic attacks. The government expelled two other Cuban diplomats in May.

Cuba's Embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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The two countries restored diplomatic ties in 2015 after more than five decades, and US tourism to the island has jumped markedly since then. An unnamed American official told CBS most of the Cuban workers on their way out are known intelligence officers.

Some U.S. officials have speculated that the attacks are the work of rogue Cuban operatives seeking to wreck relations with the U.S., or that of a third nation.

One possibility being explored is whether the stricken diplomats were made ill by a "sonic attack, " though the State Department has refrained from using that term.

Cuba's foreign minister says Washington's response to mysterious attacks on its diplomats has been "irresponsible" and "hasty".

The Cuban government has so far denied any responsibility for the attacks.

U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson had earlier said that kicking out 15 Cuban diplomats would "ensure equity".

"The expulsion of Cuban diplomats represents a serious setback to bilateral relations and is, in my opinion, part of the Trump administration's effort to dismantle Obama's policy of engagement", he said.

Havana has pledged to continue to investigate and the US will assist in the effort, Tillerson said.

The warning against travel to Cuba is necessitated, says the statement, because the skeleton staff remaining at the embassy is inadequate to assist US citizens.

"Regarding the attacks, there are now 22 persons medically confirmed to have experienced health effects due to the attacks on diplomatic personnel in Havana".

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