February 15, 2019

News Briefs – February 15, 2019

Pentagon official assures Iraqis of limited U.S. military role

The top Pentagon official assured Iraqi leaders Feb. 12 that the U.S. will stick to its limited military role in Iraq, a message aimed at recent talk by some Iraqi politicians of forcing a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Pat Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense, said that in talks with Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, he stressed U.S. respect for Iraqi sovereignty, an issue that has become a hot-button topic among Iraqis since President Donald Trump suggested using Iraq as a base for monitoring neighboring Iran and for potential attacks against remaining elements of the Islamic State group in Syria.
“I wanted to make clear to him (Abdul-Mahdi) that we recognize our role,” Shanahan told reporters later after he flew to Brussels, Belgium. “We understand that we’re there by invitation, and that we jointly share the resources and that we clearly recognize their sovereignty.”
Shanahan said he did not raise the possibility of moving additional U.S. troops into Iraq to offset the coming withdrawal of American forces from Syria. The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq as trainers and advisers to Iraqi security forces in their battle against insurgent elements of the Islamic State group that once controlled large swaths of Iraqi territory. He said they discussed “how we can generate more capacity and capability in the Iraqi security forces.” AP

U.S. commander sees no change in North Korea military threat

A top U.S. commander says he has not seen efforts by North Korea to curtail its nuclear weapons program since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their historic summit last June.
Army Gen. Robert Abrams gave his assessment of the North Korean threat as Trump and the North Korean leader prepare for a second summit later this month in Vietnam.
The U.S. hopes North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for an end to punishing international sanctions.
Abrams testified Feb. 12 to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the upcoming second meeting is a “positive sign.”
But he says “little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities.” AP

Military judge airs concerns about Navy SEAL’s murder case

A military judge has asked the Navy to address claims that material was being leaked to the media in the case of a SEAL charged with murder in the 2017 death of an Iraqi war prisoner, saying it could impact the trial.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is accused of fatally stabbing an Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017
The judge also expressed concern that Gallagher is being mistreated in the brig.
Defense attorneys say he was not allowed to shower for days, denied a request to get his hair cut and has had his medical appointments cancelled.
Defense attorneys also accused the government of leaking to the media details about what witnesses might say.
The Navy says it is investigating.
The trial is set to begin Feb. 20. AP

Australian prime minister boasts security credentials

Australia’s prime minister on Monday described his government as stronger on national security than the opposition after signing an agreement with the French government to deliver a fleet of submarines and ahead of federal elections expected to be held in May.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison used a speech to Australia’s National Press Club on the eve of Parliament’s first sitting day of the year to detail his conservative coalition’s record on a diverse range of security issues including military spending, stripping extremists of Australian citizenship, asylum seekers, contentious laws to prevent criminals from using encrypted communications, and domestic violence.
Earlier, Morrison and French Defense Minister Florence Parly signed a new agreement to deliver the first of a fleet of 12 submarines to Australia in the early 2030s. French state majority-owned shipbuilder DCNS won the 56 billion Australian dollar ($40 billion) contract in 2016 to build the world’s largest diesel-electric submarines.
The partnering agreement was reached after months of heated negotiation. The agreement spells out details such as warranties for defects and how much Australia must pay if it cancels the contract.
U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin has been contracted to design and fit the submarines’ weapon systems. AP

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