News Briefs – June 28, 2019

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U.S. military says 2 service personnel killed in Afghanistan

The U.S. military said two service members were killed June 26 in Afghanistan, but did not offer any details surrounding the circumstances of their deaths.
The killings occurred a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a quick visit to the Afghan capital of Kabul where he said Washington was hopeful of a peace deal before Sept. 1.
It’s not clear if the deaths were the result of the war, which at nearly 18 years is America’s longest running. More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led coalition invaded in October 2001 to oust the Taliban and hunt down al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s protracted war accelerated last year with the appointment of U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who will begin a fresh round of direct talks with the Taliban on Saturday in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where the religious movement maintains a political office.
Khalilzad has held a series of meetings in Kabul as well in an effort to reschedule an Afghan-to-Afghan round of talks, which were scuttled earlier this year because neither side could agree on participants.
The Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government calling them U.S. puppets, but have said they would talk with members of the government if they arrive at the meeting as ordinary Afghans.
Before leaving Afghanistan for India, Pompeo on June 25 underscored Khalilzad’s strategy in the talks, which involves four interconnected issues: counterterrorism, foreign troop presence, inter-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease-fire.
The U.S. military statement announcing the killings of the U.S. personnel was a terse two paragraph announcement. It also said the identities of the soldiers would not be released until their families had been notified. AP
 

Graves of 30 U.S. servicemen found on Pacific WWII battlefield

A nonprofit organization that searches for the remains of U.S. servicemen lost in past conflicts has found what officials believe are the graves of more than 30 Marines and sailors killed in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
History Flight President Mark Noah says a team working on the remote Pacific atoll of Tarawa found the graves in March.
They’re believed to hold the remains of Marines and sailors from the 6th Marine Regiment who were killed during the last night of the three-day Battle of Tarawa in 1943.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency expects to pick up the remains next month and fly them to Hawaii. Military forensic anthropologists there are expected to identify the remains using dental records, DNA and other clues. AP
 

UK jets in Estonia scrambled to intercept Russian planes

Britain’s defense ministry says Royal Air Force jets deployed in Estonia have been scrambled twice in a single day to intercept Russian aircraft.
The ministry said June 28 that the missions brought the number of incidents involving Russian planes to 11 since taking over the Baltic Air Policing mission in May.
The RAF Typhoon fighters were launched to intercept Russian Su-27 fighter jets and military transport aircraft.
The ministry said the U.K. operates “in support of NATO to reassure our allies and is a further demonstration of the U.K.’s commitment to the security of the region.” AP
 

NATO chief leaves all options open to counter Russia missile

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has refused to rule out the possibility that the military alliance might adapt its nascent missile defense shield to counter the potential threat posed by a new Russian missile system.
In February, the United States began the 6-month process of withdrawing from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty agreed with the then Soviet Union, insisting that Russia’s SSC-8 missiles contravenes the pact.
The INF treaty will end on Aug. 2 unless Russia changes its mind. NATO defense ministers were meeting Wednesday to weigh their options.
Asked whether NATO might use the multi-billion-dollar shield against Russia’s SSC-8 missiles, Stoltenberg said he would not divulge “exactly what we will do because we are still focused on how we can get Russia back into compliance.” AP
 

New problem discovered in Boeing’s troubled 737 Max jet

A new computer problem has been found in the troubled Boeing 737 Max that will further delay the plane’s return to flying after two deadly crashes, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The latest flaw in the plane’s computer system was discovered by Federal Aviation Administration pilots who were testing an update to critical software in a flight simulator last week at a Boeing facility near Seattle, the people said.
Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One of the people familiar with the discovery said it would add one to three months to the timetable for returning the Max to flight. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the development has not been made public. AP