News Briefs – July 27, 2016


Stepping in for weak ASEAN, Japan, Australia, U.S. chide China

The United States, Japan and Australia have urged China not to construct military outposts and reclaim land in the disputed South China Sea, in a strong show of support for Southeast Asian nations that have territorial disputes with Beijing in the resource-rich area.
A joint statement by the three allies, issued late July 25, ironically fills the vacuum created by Southeast Asia’s main grouping, which during its meeting of foreign ministers on Sunday failed to chide China because of internal disunity.
“The ministers expressed their serious concerns over maritime disputes in the South China Sea. The ministers voiced their strong opposition to any coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions,” said Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers Fumio Kishida and Julie Bishop. AP

Pilot avoided home before ditching jet after Obama speech

A Thunderbirds pilot who ditched his jet moments after flying over the Air Force Academy’s commencement ceremony reported engine trouble and told air traffic controllers he was aiming the plane away from a home before he ejected safely into a field.
Maj. Alex Turner of Chelmsford, Mass., had just flown over the crowd watching President Barack Obama’s commencement address June 2. In an audio recording between air traffic controllers in Colorado Springs and the Air Force’s elite flying team, Turner said his jet was having engine problems.
About 10 seconds later, he said, “I’m putting it away from somebody’s house here. I’m getting out.”
The FAA released the recordings at the request of The Associated Press.
Turner, who has logged more than 270 combat hours over Libya and Iraq, parachuted safely and was not seriously injured. He landed about a half-mile from his plane and seemed “pretty calm” when firefighters from the nearby town of Security arrived, Pete Smith, a member of the Security Fire Department said at the time.
“I would have been a little more upset than he was,” Smith said.
A rescue helicopter then ferried Turner to a face-to-face meeting with Obama.
News of the crash broke while Obama’s motorcade was returning to Peterson Air Force Base for his flight back to Washington, and emergency responders who retrieved Turner in the rescue helicopter brought him to a spot that happened to be on the president’s route back to Air Force One.
There was no obvious sign of trouble with any of the jets during the Thunderbirds’ traditional performance over the commencement ceremony near Colorado Springs. Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond, commander of the Thunderbirds, said shortly after the crash that the problem happened after Turner put the landing gear down.
The jet, which remained largely intact, skidded a few hundred yards across a grassy field before coming to rest on its belly.
The Thunderbirds temporarily canceled airshows after the crash. AP

Carter casts doubt on military partnership with Russia

Defense Secretary Ash Carter July 25 cast doubt on prospects for a military partnership with Russia to combat the Islamic State inside Syria.
At a Pentagon news conference with Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter was asked his view of Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to establish military cooperation in Syria. He said the problem is that Russia is focused mainly on supporting the Syrian government, which he said has had the effect of prolonging the civil war.
“We had hoped that they would promote a political solution and transition to put an end to the civil war, which is the beginning of all this violence in Syria, and then combat extremists rather than moderate opposition, which has to be part of that transition,” Carter said. “So they’re a long way from doing that.”
When a reporter told Carter that he sounded unenthusiastic about the Kerry effort, Carter said, “No, I’m very enthusiastic about the idea of the Russians getting on side and doing the right thing. And I think that would be a good thing if they did. I think we’re a ways from getting that frame of mind in Russia. But that’s what Secretary Kerry is working toward.”
Kerry has been talking to Russian officials about a proposal in which the U.S. would share intelligence and targeting information with the Russians. In exchange Moscow would use its influence with the Syrian regime to effectively ground the Syrian air force and to promote a political solution to a civil war that has killed as many as a half a million people.
Both Carter and Dunford said any arrangement with the Russians to coordinate military action in Syria would be transactional and not based on trust.
Kerry’s talks with Moscow 10 days ago came after a leaked proposal showed the U.S. offering Russia a broad new military partnership against IS and the Nusra Front, which is al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Several conditions would apply, including Russia committing to grounding Syria’s bombers and starting a long-sought political transition process.
Dunford denied reports that U.S.-backed opposition forces have coordinated with Nusra in some cases.
“`We don’t have any indication that the forces that we are providing support to in Syria are cooperating or intermingled with al-Nusra,” the general said. AP

Israel hopes to sign new U.S. military aid package soon

A senior Israeli official will travel to Washington next week in the hopes of signing a long-anticipated agreement that could result in increased U.S. military assistance to Israel, the Israeli prime minister’s office said July 25.
The premier’s office said in a statement that Brig. Gen. (Res.) Jacob Nagel, acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, will meet White House officials to sign an agreement “as soon as possible.”
The U.S. gives Israel $3.1 billion annually in an agreement expiring before the 2018 fiscal year. The Obama administration has offered Israel an enhanced decade-long military aid package to ease Israel’s concerns over the U.S.-led Iranian nuclear deal.
Since the Iran deal was signed, the U.S. and Israel have haggled over how much Israel would receive. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once reportedly suggested Israel might get a better deal from the next U.S. administration.
White House officials declined to comment on Israel’s announcement of Nagel’s visit, but said U.S. and Israeli officials are in regular contact to try to finalize the deal.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said Israel does not seek an increase in the already agreed upon $3.1 billion for the 2017 fiscal year.
“Israel places great value on the predictability and certainty of the military assistance it receives from the United States and on honoring bilateral agreements,” the prime minister’s office said. AP