News Briefs – April 27, 2017

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Thai gov’t approves purchase of $393 million submarine from China

Thailand’s government has approved the purchase of its first submarine in more than half a century, the country’s top defense official said April 25, calling the $393 million deal with China necessary and a bargain.
Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the navy’s purchase of a Yuan Class S26T submarine would be conducted transparently, responding to concerns about corruption. He said the vessel would be delivered in five to six years.
Thailand’s navy has been seeking to buy submarines for almost a decade, having decommissioned its last one in 1951. The military government had said it also considered buying the vessels from Germany or South Korea, but last year announced plans to buy three from China at a total price of around $1 billion.
The purchase won the final go-ahead only after Thailand’s military seized power in a May 2014 coup, even though a $15 million submarine base and training center was inaugurated shortly afterward, in July 2014. The purchase of such a major weapons system from China has political as well as defense ramifications because the ruling junta has sought closer relations with China to balance traditional ties with the United States, which has been critical of Thailand’s turn away from democracy.
It will take about 11 years for all three submarines to be acquired, said Prawit, who is also deputy prime minister. It was not clear, however, whether agreements have been finalized for the purchase of the second and third submarines. Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd April 24 said details of further purchases were the navy’s business and would not be publicly announced as they involve security matters.
Sansern said there was nothing shady about the deal, which drew attention because it was approved at the previous week’s Cabinet meeting without being announced.
“The submarine we are buying is not expensive and it will be very useful in the Andaman Sea in a 200-mile radius area that we’ve never explored,” Prawit said.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said last month that China had offered the cheapest deal, amounting to a “buy-two, get-three” bargain. AP
 

Iraqi troops capture largest neighborhood in western Mosul

A senior military commander says Iraqi troops have driven out Islamic State militants from the largest neighborhood in the western half of the city of Mosul.
Special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told The Associated Press April 25 that the sprawling al-Tanek neighborhood “is fully liberated and under full control” of the security forces. Al-Saadi didn’t provide more details.
Taking sprawling al-Tanek on the city’s westernmost edge is a major development.
To the east of al-Tanek, Iraqi forces have been facing tough resistance from IS in Mosul’s Old City along the Tigris River. Its narrow alleys and densely populated areas have made it hard for troops to move forward.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq. AP
 

Air Force won’t supply clean water to polluted Michigan city

The U.S. Air Force is pushing back against a new law that requires it to provide safe drinking water to residents in a northeastern Michigan city affected by chemical pollution from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
Air Force officials argue they won’t provide clean water because the law is discriminatory, Mlive reported.
A state law that took effect in January says the military must supply safe drinking water to Oscoda residents whose wells were polluted with toxic chemicals from Wurtsmith.
“The Michigan law does discriminate as it only applies to federal and state agencies, not to all entities and persons,” Air Force spokesman Mark Kinkade said.
Republican Sen. Jim Stamas sponsored the bill after military officials informed him last year that the Air Force would supply an alternative water source to affected properties if Michigan passed a law requiring that.
“I am extremely disappointed in the U.S. Air Force for not living up to its word and its responsibilities,” Stamas said. “The federal government needs to be held accountable for what they did, and I will be asking Attorney General Bill Schuette to pursue action to enforce the law.”
The Air Force says the Department of Defense prevents it from spending money on alternative water unless a private well tests for chemical concentrations above the federal health advisory level.
The latest testing shows the pollution is moving south of two waterways previously thought of as natural buffers. A well near Oscoda High School has also tested positive for chemical concentrations above the advisory level.
“The science on these substances is evolving in the direction of them being known to be more dangerous than we previously thought,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint said. “I don’t think they (Air Force) are moving with the urgency they should be.” AP