WASHINGTON – The US government said on Friday that the number of American diplomats affected by ostensible sonic attacks in Cuba has reached 24.
“Based on continued assessments of US government personnel, we can confirm 24 persons have experienced health effects from the attacks,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
The two additional cases “do not reflect new attacks,” she said.
“Our personnel are receiving comprehensive medical evaluations and care,” Nauert said. “We can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.”
Symptoms experienced by the 24 officials include hearing loss, problems with balance and trouble sleeping.
In response to the situation, the State Department reduced the number of employees at the US Embassy in Havana to a minimum, forcing officials to stop issuing visas and provide only emergency consular services.
Last week, Washington ordered 15 Cuban Embassy officials to leave the US, a move that ratcheted up bilateral tensions, which had been rising since President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.
The State Department has not blamed the Cuban government, saying that it did not know who was responsible for the attacks, which the FBI is investigating.
Washington, however, has accused Havana of failing to protect US diplomatic personnel.
The Cuban government, for its part, denied staging the attacks and said an investigation was opened as soon as officials became aware of what happened.
Havana has also complained about a lack of cooperation on the part of US officials and an absence of evidence.
Last week, Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said the administration’s position was that “the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats.”
Nauert said in the wake of Kelly’s comments that the chief of staff was probably referring to Cuba’s obligation under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic personnel.
“I do believe Cuba’s responsible. I do believe that, and it’s a very unusual attack, as you know, but I do believe Cuba’s responsible, yes,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier this week.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to respond Friday when asked whether the president has confidence in the US investigation into the mysterious attacks, saying only that the probe continues.
Sanders said that as far as she knew, Trump has not contacted any of the affected diplomats.
In a piece published Oct. 6, a science reporter for The New York Times recounted what he learned from experts in ultrasonics while researching an article on the attacks in Cuba.
“The consensus was that it was extremely unlikely the diplomats were the victims of a sonic weapon. It would be necessary to rule out less exotic possibilities before taking that one seriously,” Carl Zimmer wrote.