News Briefs – November 18, 2019

U.S. military academy athletes can now delay service, go pro

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has issued new guidelines that will allow athletes attending the nation’s military academies to seek waivers to delay their service and play professional sports immediately upon their graduation.
A memo signed Nov. 15 by Esper requires athletes going pro to get approval from the defense secretary. It says they must eventually fulfill their military obligation or repay the cost of their college education.
The memo was obtained by The Associated Press. President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon in May to come up with a way to allow athletes to play professional sports immediately upon graduation.
The Pentagon in 2018 rescinded a policy allowing athletes from the service academies to go straight to the pros. Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued that the academies exist to train officers. AP

Esper defends as fair Pentagon contract disputed by Amazon

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Nov. 15 he was certain that the awarding of a $10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon was done fairly.
The Pentagon awarded the contract to Microsoft in late October, and Amazon said there was “unmistakable bias” on the government’s part and it intended to challenge the decision in court.
Esper recused himself from the contract decision because his son had worked for one of the other unsuccessful bidders.
“I am confident that it was conducted freely and fairly without any type of outside influence,” Esper said at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea.
Amazon’s competitive bid for the “war cloud” project drew criticism from President Donald Trump and its business rivals. The project, formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, pitted leading tech titans Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and IBM against one another
In a statement Nov. 14, Amazon said “numerous aspects” of the bidding process involved “clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias.” It did not elaborate on those allegations but said “it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.”
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment. A Defense Department spokeswoman would only say that the Pentagon won’t speculate on potential litigation.
JEDI will store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the U.S. military to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities. AP

At NATO summit, Trump to stress U.S. allies’ defense spending

President Donald Trump will try to convince U.S. allies that they should increase defense spending when he attends a meeting of NATO leaders next month in London, the White House said Nov. 15.
Trump, who met this week at the White House with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, has long pushed allies to reduce their reliance on the United States for security assistance.
“We are making real progress,” Stoltenberg told The Associated Press in an interview on Nov. 14. “Before allies were cutting defense budgets. Now, they are adding billions to their budgets and by the end of next year, NATO allies in Europe and Canada will have added $100 billion or actually more than $100 billion to their defense spending” since 2016.
Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said Trump will attend the NATO meeting from Dec. 2 to Dec. 4, and will also stress NATO’s readiness to respond to terrorist threats and cyberattacks that target infrastructure and telecommunications networks.
She said the president and first lady Melania Trump will also go to a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. AP

Erdogan says Turkey won’t dispose of Russian S-400s

Turkey is willing to purchase U.S.-made Patriot air defense systems but will not agree to disposing of the Russian S-400 system it has already bought, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Nov. 14.
Speaking to reporters on board his plane on his way back from a meeting with Donald Trump in Washington, Erdogan said the U.S. president was engaged in “sincere efforts” to resolve disputes between the NATO allies.
Turkey took delivery of the Russian S-400 system this year, dismissing warnings from the United States that it poses a threat to NATO security.
As a result, Washington suspended Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 fighter jet program.
“We told them we can purchase the Patriots too. We regard the proposal to completely remove the S-400s (from Turkey) as meddling in our sovereign rights,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as saying. “There can be no question of us leaving the S-400s and turning toward the Patriots.”
Erdogan said: “I want both America and Russia to be my friend. All our efforts are geared toward that.”
The dispute over the competing air defense systems is one component of the tension between the two countries. Turkey has also come under fire in Washington for its incursion into Syria last month to drive away Syrian Kurdish forces that fought with the U.S. against the Islamic State.
Turkey, meanwhile, is angry at the U.S. for supporting the Kurdish forces it views as a threat and for refusing to extradite a Muslim cleric it accuses of fomenting a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.
Erdogan also told reporters that he had returned a letter that Trump sent on Oct. 9, urging Erdogan restraint over his plans for an offensive in Syria. Trump wrote: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”
Opposition parties had decried the letter as an insult to Turkey, calling on Erdogan to send it back to Trump.
Erdogan said Trump did not react when he handed him back the letter. AP