News Briefs – January 24, 2020

NATO chief seeks beefed-up training role in Iraq

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance must beef up its military training operation in Iraq to ensure that its members are not drawn back into combat there against Islamic State extremists.
Stoltenberg has held talks in recent days with senior Iraqi and officials and King Abdullah of neighboring Jordan amid cautious optimism that NATO might be permitted to resume its training activities in Iraq in the near future.
“We need to go heavy in and train. Build everything from the ministry of defense, institutions, command and control, to train forces. NATO can do that. We already do it, but we can scale up,” Stoltenberg told members of the European Parliament in Brussels on Jan. 22.
NATO agreed in 2018 to launch a training mission in Iraq involving around 500 troops with the aim of building up the country’s armed forces so they could better combat extremist groups like IS
But the operation was put on hold after a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport killed Iran’s top general earlier this month and the Iraqi government demanded that foreign troops leave its territory. As tensions mounted, U.S. President Donald Trump insisted that NATO should do more in the region.
However, there is little appetite among European allies and Canada to deploy troops, even though the United States is by far the biggest and most influential of the 29 NATO member countries.
While acknowledging that he opposed the Iraq war as a Norwegian lawmaker in 2003, Stoltenberg said Jan. 22 he thought “the West left a bit too early” and that IS took advantage of the security vacuum by seizing vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq and Syria.
“I strongly believe that if we don’t act now we may be forced back in combat,” he told the parliamentarians. “We must prevent that from happening again, and therefore we need to build some local (security) capacity so they prevent ISIS (Islamic State militants) from coming back.”
“If we don’t do that we will have a big problem, for certain, and then we may end up 2-3 years down the road back in a big combat operation,” Stoltenberg said. AP

Pentagon gives conditional OK to resume Saudi training in U.S.

The Pentagon has given the Navy and other military services conditional approval to resume training of Saudi Arabian nationals in the U.S.
Operational training, such as flying and other non-classroom work, for the approximately 850 Saudis at multiple U.S bases was suspended on Dec. 10. That was four days after one Saudi trainee shot and killed three U.S. Navy service members at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.
Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said in a memo dated Jan. 17 and released Tuesday that non-classroom training can resume once the military services have met certain conditions, including implementing a prohibition on the possession — on or off U.S. military property — of privately owned firearms and ammunition by international military students and their families.
The military services must also ensure that all international military students are under continuous monitoring for potentially disqualifying behavior. The continuous monitoring, which was ordered last week by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, is intended to allow U.S. officials to pick up on signs of radicalization or other problematic behavior that might not have been apparent when the student entered the training program.
The military services must also take steps to transition most international military students to credentials that limit physical access to those Defense Department facilities for which they have a bona fide requirement to access.
Norquist set no firm date for resumption of the training. It is up to the military services to meet the conditions first, and then notify the Pentagon agency that is responsible for overseeing international training programs.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that 21 Saudi military students were sent home after a review of all Saudi trainees. The 21, including an undisclosed number at Pensacola, had jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography,” including in internet chat rooms, officials said. None is accused of having had advance knowledge of the Dec. 6 shooting or helped the gunman carry it out.
The shooting at Pensacola in which Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other people focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets. AP

Boeing doesn’t expect Max jet to be cleared until summer

Boeing said Jan. 22 that it doesn’t expect federal regulators to approve its changes to the grounded 737 Max until this summer, several months longer than the company was saying just a few weeks ago.
That timetable — the latest of several delays in the plane’s approval process — will create more headaches for airlines by pushing the Max’s return further into the peak summer travel season. Even after federal officials approve changes Boeing is making to the plane, airlines will need more time to train pilots.
The company said regulators will decide when the Max flies again but that it periodically gives airlines and suppliers its best estimate of when that will happen.
“This updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process,” Boeing said in a statement. “It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process. It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying at every step of their review” of the plane’s flight controls and pilot-training requirements.
The latest timetable is based on work remaining to be done before the Federal Aviation Administration will allow the Max back in the sky, according to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that Boeing did not provide.
Shortly after the first Max crash in October 2018 in Indonesia, Boeing began updating software that investigators say was triggered by a faulty sensor and pushed the plane’s nose down. Then in March 2019, another Max crashed in Ethiopia. In all, 346 people died.
Boeing has made the software less powerful and tied it to two sensors instead of one. That work was done months ago, but the company is still working on changes to flight-control computers and pilot-training requirements. Another software issue was discovered last week, although one of the people familiar with the situation said it would not cause more delay in the plane’s return. AP