News Briefs – October 10, 2016


Afghan army helicopter crashes in north Afghanistan; 8 dead

Eight Afghan soldiers were killed early Oct. 9 morning when a military helicopter crashed in northern Baghlan province, officials said.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said that five crew members and three army soldiers were killed in the crash.
The crash took place in Dand Ghori district while the helicopter was supplying a military base, he said. Waziri blamed a technical problem with the aircraft and said he rejected any claims by insurgents to have downed the helicopter.
One helicopter was on the ground while a second was patrolling in the air above, when “suddenly a technical problem caused the helicopter to catch fire and hit the ground,” Waziri said.
However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement claiming responsibility for downing the helicopter, saying the aircraft was shot down by fighters.
Two provincial officials in Baghlan also said the helicopter had been shot down by insurgents while it was supplying the military base with food, water and ammunition.
Qarghan Tapa base has been surrounded by insurgents for a week, leaving more than a hundred soldiers trapped inside, according to the officials. They said all roads to the base have been shut off by the insurgents and the only way to supply them is by air.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.
Mahmood Haqmal, spokesman for Baghlan’s governor, said that Taliban gunmen have stepped up their attacks in Dand Ghori and Baghlan-e Murkazi districts. Some civilians have been displaced by the fighting, he said.
Taliban insurgents have increased their attacks on Afghan security forces in northern Baghlan and neighboring Kunduz province in recent weeks. The Taliban are still managing to hold out in the northern city of Kunduz as fighting there continues for the seventh day since the insurgents launched an all-out assault. AP

New office at military base will test weapons technology

An initiative led by a southwest Ohio military base will test technologies like directed energy and hypersonics to determine if the weapons can be fielded on future battlefields, officials said.
The Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Execution Office has a staff of 15 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, and will report its findings to the top Air Force general and secretary of the Air Force, the Dayton Daily News reported.
“This is a new way of doing capability development for the Air Force,” Office Director Jack Blackhurst said.
The new field office is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory headquartered in Washington and will target Air Force-wide strategic requirements, rather than major command tactical needs, Blackhurst said. The initiative will report on the results of experiments, war gaming, modeling and simulation research, and the feasibility of prototypes as future weapon systems.
“We might be asked to go do some experiments to get something in the warfighters’ hands to go try out and see if they really work or not in the capacity that they want them to,” he said.
The initiative is important to help the Air Force keep its military edge over potential enemies without wasting time or money, said Loren Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and an industry consultant. He said the goal is to make the Air Force “more agile.” AP

Philippines tells U.S. no joint patrols in South China Sea

The Philippine defense chief said Oct. 7 he told the U.S. military that plans for joint patrols and naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea have been put on hold, the first concrete break in defense cooperation after months of increasingly strident comments by the country’s new president.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said that 107 U.S. troops involved in operating surveillance drones against Muslim militants would be asked to leave the southern part of the country once the Philippines acquires those intelligence-gathering capabilities in the near future.
President Rodrigo Duterte also wants to halt the 28 military exercises that are carried out with U.S. forces each year, Lorenzana said. Duterte has said he wants an ongoing U.S.-Philippine amphibious beach landing exercise to be the last in his six-year presidency as he backs away from what he views as too much dependence on the U.S.
“This year would be the last,” Duterte said of military exercises involving the Americans in a speech Friday in southern Davao city where he lashed out at the U.S. anew and repeated his readiness to be ousted from office for his hard-line stance.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. government is not aware of any official notification on curtailing military exercises. He said the U.S. remains focused on its security commitments to Philippines, with which it has a mutual defense treaty. AP

Finland, U.S. to deepen military ties through pact

Finland and the United States have signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact pledging closer military collaboration at the time when the Nordic country is increasingly concerned over Russia’s activities in the Baltic Sea region.
The deal was signed in Helsinki Oct. 7by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work and the Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto.
While Washington and Helsinki already closely cooperate through joint military drills on air, land and sea, the non-legally binding pact seeks to deepen the ties through information exchange, joint research and development in areas like cyberdefense and training among other things.
The pact covers cooperation in ship building, nuclear defense and developing technologies for the Arctic — an area of increasing interest for both nations.
In the three-page declaration, the U.S. and Finnish defense ministries jointly state that “the U.S. presence in and around the Baltic Sea undergirds stability in the region, and creates opportunities to increase defense cooperation between our countries.”
As a stark reminder of the military realities in the region, Niinisto said earlier Oct. 7 that Finland suspects that Russian SU-27 fighter jets violated the country’s airspace on two separate occasions in the Gulf of Finland Oct. 6.
The claim was quickly denounced by Russia’s defense ministry which, as quoted by news agency TASS, said the planes flew over international waters “in strict compliance with the international regulations.” AP

Russian military considers return to Cuba, Vietnam

The Russian military says it’s considering the possibility of regaining its Soviet-era bases on Cuba and in Vietnam, a statement that comes amid growing U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers Oct. 7 that the ministry is considering the possibility of establishing footholds far away from Russia’s borders.
In response to a lawmaker’s question if the military could return to Cuba and Vietnam, Pankov said the military is “reviewing” a decision to withdraw from them, but didn’t offer any specifics.
In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to pull back from Cuba and Vietnam as he sought to bolster ties with the United States. The U.S.-Russian relations now have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War times amid strain over Syria and Ukraine. AP

Russia lawmakers approve indefinite Syria military presence

Russia’s parliament ratified a treaty with Syria Oct. 7 that allows Russian troops to stay indefinitely in the Mideast country, a show of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The development comes against the backdrop of a Syrian army onslaught on the rebel-held eastern part of the city of Aleppo in northern Syria, which has been backed by Russian warplanes. Since the collapse of a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire last month, ties between Moscow and Washington have grown even more strained.
The United States and Russia support opposite sides in the war — Moscow has been a staunch Assad ally and Washington backs Syrian rebels trying to oust him.
Russia’s air campaign in Syria, launched a year ago, has reversed the tide of war and helped Assad’s forces regain some key ground. Moscow says the goal of its military operation is to assist the Syrian army in the fight against terrorism. It rejects accusations of targeting civilians.
Lawmakers in the Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted unanimously to approve the deal, which allows Russia to keep its forces at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, Assad’s Alawite heartland, for as long as it wants. The deal was signed in August 2015 in Damascus, a month before the Russian air campaign began.
Russia also has a naval base in Syria’s port of Tartus, the only such outpost outside the former Soviet Union. That base is not covered by the treaty, and some lawmakers say it could be the subject of a separate deal. AP