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President William Ruto at the Pentagon for bilateral talks

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, hosts a welcoming ceremony for Kenya's President William Ruto at the Pentagon in Washington, Friday, May 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh   -  
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Susan Walsh/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.


U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto to the Pentagon for bilateral talks ahead of expected travel to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a medical procedure Friday.

Austin continues to deal with bladder issues that arose following his treatment for prostate cancer late last year. The Pentagon says he procedure is elective and minimally invasive, and “is not related to his cancer diagnosis and has had no effect on his excellent cancer prognosis.” However, it will require him to transfer power temporarily.

During his meeting with Ruto at the Pentagon, Austin echoed President Joe Biden, who praised Kenya this week for stepping up in Haiti when so few other countries have agreed to do so. Biden also announced his intention to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally, an acknowledgment of the growing security partnership between the countries.

"The United States reserves its designation for close partners that have strategic working relationships with our military and defense civilians," Austin said. This designation underscores our close relationship, and it demonstrates our deep appreciation for your contributions to peace and security in Africa and beyond," he said.

The designation, while largely symbolic, reflects how Kenya has grown from a regional partner that has long cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism operations on the continent to a major global influence — even extending its reach into the Western Hemisphere. Kenya will be the first sub-Saharan African country to receive the status.

Some 1,000 Kenyan police officers are set to arrive soon in Haiti, part of a multilateral security support mission that aims to help quell gang violence. Other countries expected to back up Kenyan forces include the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh.

Ruto's plan to involve Kenyan police in a crisis thousands of miles away has also been met with some opposition in Nairobi, including legal challenges aimed at blocking the deployment of police forces and long-standing concerns over alleged abuses by police.