November 20, 2017

News Briefs – November 20, 2017

Japanese tug boat scrapes U.S. Navy ship during exercise

A Japanese tug boat lost propulsion and drifted into a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer during a towing exercise, the Navy said.

The USS Benfold sustained minimal damage Nov. 20, including scrapes on its side, the Navy said in a statement. No one was injured on either vessel. The commercial tug boat was towed to a port in Yokosuka, the home of the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet.

The collision occurred in Sagami Bay, which is southwest of Tokyo. The Navy said the Benfold remained at sea under its own power, and that the incident would be investigated.

The 7th Fleet has had two fatal accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.

The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan.

The Navy has concluded that the collisions were avoidable and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders, who didn’t quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies. A Navy report recommended numerous changes to address the problems, ranging from improved training to increasing sleep and stress management for sailors. AP

New U.S. weather satellite launched from California

An advanced U.S. weather satellite designed to improve the accuracy of extended forecasts has been launched into polar orbit from California.

The Joint Polar Satellite System-1 lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:47 a.m., PST, Nov. 18 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket.

The satellite is the first of four next-generation spacecraft for NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Circling the Earth from pole to pole 14 times a day, JPSS-1 carries a suite of five instruments intended to make global observations that will improve forecasts of severe weather events three to seven days beforehand.

The satellite also will contribute to near-term weather forecasts, climate and ocean dynamics research, among many other uses. AP

Defying Russia, Serbia holds military drills with Americans

American and Serbian paratroopers held joint military exercises Nov. 17 in Serbia, watched with unease by Russia, which is trying to increase its influence in the Balkans and keep the country within its fold.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attended the last day of the four-day drill that included joint jumps by Serbian and U.S. parachutists from two U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules transport planes that flew close to the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

“The joint exercise contributes to the (military) skills, but also enhances partnership and friendship that was not always seen in the past,” Vucic said. “I’m grateful to our American partners who have showed that in a short time we could organize these activities.”

In 1999, a 78-day U.S.-led NATO bombardment ended a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in its former province of Kosovo, making the Western military alliance very unpopular among the Serbs.

John Gronski, the U.S. Army Europe deputy commanding general, said after the drills that such exercises with the Serbian forces “build the readiness of both of our militaries and when you have ready military, a region can be more stable and secure.”

American and NATO-related military drills in the Balkans regularly trigger anger by the Kremlin, which opposes its expansion in the former communist Eastern Europe. Serbia is considered the last remaining Russian ally in the region.

Serbia, which tries to politically balance between Russia and the West while seeking European Union membership, claims military neutrality. But Moscow has been arming the country with fighter jets and other equipment, worrying neighboring states in the region that saw a bloody civil war in the 1990s.

NATO and Serbia have been improving cooperation since the country joined its outreach Partnership for Peace program in 2006.

“I believe that we will improve (our relations) in the future,” Vucic said, adding that “Serbia will, understandably, jealously preserve its military neutrality.”

Gronski, the U.S. general, said whether Serbia eventually joins NATO depends on politicians. AP

NATO apologizes to Turkey over reports Erdogan shown as foe

NATO’s secretary-general apologized to Turkey Nov. 17 over military exercises in Norway during which Turkey’s founding leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were reportedly depicted as “enemies.”

Erdogan said Turkey withdrew 40 of its soldiers participating in the drills at NATO’s Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway, in protest of the incident and slammed the alliance.

“There can be no such unity, no such alliance,” he said in an address to his ruling party’s provincial leaders.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement saying: “I apologize for the offense caused.” He said the incident was the result of an “individual’s actions” and didn’t reflect the views of the alliance.

The individual, described as a civilian contractor seconded by Norway and not a NATO employee, was removed from the exercise and an investigation was underway, Stoltenberg said.

“It will be for the Norwegian authorities to decide on any disciplinary action,” Stoltenberg added. “Turkey is a valued NATO ally, which makes important contributions to allied security.”

Erdogan said Ataturk’s picture and his own name were featured on an “enemy chart” during the drills.

The Joint Warfare Centre is a multi-national NATO unit based in Stavanger, 186 miles southwest of Oslo. It is currently led by Maj. Gen. Andrzej Reudowicz of Poland. According to its website, it has a staff of 250 made up of civilians from 11 NATO member states, including Turkey.

In March, the Norwegian government caused fury in Turkey by granting political asylum to five Turkish officers based in Norway who had refused to return home after the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The five officers said that they feared being arrested and tortured in Turkey. AP

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