News Briefs – June 12, 2019

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U.S. military vehicle hits roadside bomb in Niger

U.S. military officials say an American vehicle has struck a roadside bomb in the troubled West African country.
There were no fatalities, though U.S. Africa Command said June 9 that U.S. service members were being looked at as a precaution. The explosion took place while U.S. and Nigerien forces were conducting a training exercise Saturday.
The incident happened near Ouallam in western Niger, not far from where four U.S. service members were killed during an ambush in October 2017. Four Nigerien soldiers also died when that joint patrol force came under fire by Islamic militants.
The ambush drew attention to the role that the U.S. military is playing in training troops in Niger. AP
 

Poland, U.S. conclude talks on higher American troop presence

An aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda says that negotiations to increase the U.S. military presence in Poland have concluded and were a success.
The comments came days before Duda’s visit in Washington with President Donald Trump this week.
Citing concerns over Russia’s military activity, Poland has been pushing for an increased, permanent presence of U.S. troops in the country, currently numbering around 4,000, in a rotational system.
Duda aide Krzysztof Szczerski said June 10 the negotiations on what Poland has dubbed “Fort Trump” would provide for an increase in the “quality and quantity” of U.S. presence in the NATO country. He said the deal still needs formal approval from both presidents.
An announcement is expected when Trump hosts Duda for talks June 12 at the White House. AP
 

New Zealand military to buy 5 Lockheed Super Hercules planes

New Zealand’s military announced June 11 it will buy five new Super Hercules planes to replace its 50-year-old fleet of Hercules.
Defense Minister Ron Mark said the estimated cost of the Lockheed Martin aircraft was more than 1 billion New Zealand dollars ($661 million), although a price hasn’t yet been finalized.
He said the military would buy the stretch version of the plane, the C-130J-30 Super Hercules. Lockheed describes the planes as workhorses that are capable of landing on austere runways almost destroyed by natural disasters.
The announcement came as part of a broader 11-year military investment plan of NZ$20 billion that includes spending on new vessels and maritime surveillance. Mark said the investments are primarily humanitarian in nature, designed to provide assistance and security to New Zealand’s Pacific neighbors.
New Zealand’s air force currently operates five C-130 Hercules planes, three of which it took delivery of in 1965 and two in 1969. The planes have been upgraded several times since then. AP
 

Georgian leader sees NATO future, seeks tough line on Russia

Georgia’s president is calling on Western allies to do more to face up to Russia and the “very heavy pressure” she says Moscow has put on her Caucasus nation.
Salome Zurabishvili took office as Georgia’s first woman president in December. A former French diplomat who was born in Paris to Georgian parents, she insists Georgia will one day join the European Union and NATO.
George lost control of the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after an August 2008 war with Russia.
Russia has strengthened its military presence in both regions and recognized them as independent states.
Zurabishvili joined about two dozen other heads of state and government — including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — for the International Labor Organization’s centennial that opened in Geneva June 10. AP
 

Czech Republic urges EU to start talks with North Macedonia

The Czech prime minister is urging the European Union to start accession talks with North Macedonia, saying failure to do so would send the wrong message to would-be members of the bloc.
Andrej Babish says EU leaders should “keep their word” in starting negotiations with the small Balkan country, which changed its name from Macedonia under a deal to normalize relations with neighboring Greece.
The agreement earlier this year was designed to ease North Macedonia’s way into NATO and the EU — which Greece opposed for years because of the name dispute.
North Macedonia has been a candidate to join the 28-nation union since 2005. Its government hopes accession talks will start by the autumn.
Babish spoke following talks in Skopje June 11 with North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. AP
 

Congressional panel names witnesses for Boeing Max hearing

A famous airline pilot and a former safety regulator are among witnesses scheduled for a congressional hearing on the grounded Boeing 737 Max.
The House aviation subcommittee said June 10 it will hear from Chesley Sullenberger, who safely landed a crippled Airbus jet on New York’s Hudson River in 2009, former Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt, and union and industry officials.
The June 19 hearing will be the panel’s second on the Max, which was grounded after two accidents that killed a total of 346 people.
The subcommittee says it’s gathering information about steps needed to ensure the plane is safe before it’s allowed to fly again.
Last month, the panel heard from acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell and Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. AP