News Briefs – March 27, 2020

France pulls out military forces in Iraq amid virus demands

France is pulling out its military forces from Iraq as French forces are increasingly called upon to help fight the coronavirus at home.
The chief of staff of the French armed forces said in a statement March 25 that France is suspending its anti-terrorism training operations in Iraq and also bringing home its Iraq-based troops involved in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.
France, which has suffered repeated attacks on its soil by Islamic State extremists, is maintaining military operations in Kuwait and Qatar, and air force missions over Syria.
The announcement came just after French President Emmanuel Macron launched a special military operation to support efforts to treat people infected with the new virus.
France plans to deploy helicopter carriers in its overseas territories, and has transported the sick on military planes and an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. The French military also built a field hospital in the eastern city of Mulhouse, located in the region of France hardest-hit by the outbreak.
France had almost 26,000 confirmed cases as of March 25 and the fifth-largest number of virus-related deaths in the world at more than 1,300. AP

Iraqi military says 2 rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone

Iraq’s military on March 26 said at least two rockets hit inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to the U.S. Embassy, in the first attack following a brief lull in violence from earlier this month.
The two projectiles struck near the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates Iraq’s police and military forces, the military statement said. The command center is a few hundred yards away from the U.S. Embassy, which is a regular target of rocket attacks.
There were no casualties, said an Iraqi security official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The attack occurred as a state-imposed curfew to contain the spread of the new coronavirus continued for a second week. The effective lockdown has prohibited large public gatherings and shuttered all but essential businesses such as pharmacies and supermarkets.
The statement said the rockets were launched from the al-Nahda area of Baghdad.
It was the latest rocket attack to strike the Green Zone since three rockets hit an area near the embassy last Tuesday. That attack was the fourth to target U.S. interests in Iraq in the span of a week following assaults on the Basmaya training camp and two separate attacks on Camp Taji. Both bases are near the Iraqi capital. AP

Canada tells U.S. not to put troops at border during pandemic

Canada has told the U.S. it is strongly opposed to a Trump administration proposal to put troops at the U.S.-Canada border amid the pandemic and said if it goes ahead it would damage relations between the two longtime allies.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government has been in discussions with the White House about convincing the U.S. not to do it.
“Canada and the United States have the longest un-militarized border in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” Trudeau said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told Pentagon reporters during a press conference that the Army has not gotten any directive to go to the border.
Few people cross into the border into the U.S. from Canada illegally. And COVID-19 cases are surging more in the U.S. than in Canada.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said they have told the Trump administration there is no justification for troops at the border. AP

Eight European spacecraft put in hibernation amid virus lockdown

The European Space Agency said March 24 that it is putting eight of its spacecraft into hibernation as it scales down operations during the coronavirus outbreak.
The agency said it is further reducing the already limited number of staff working on site at its mission control in Darmstadt, Germany. As a result, the instruments and data collection on some space probes are being temporarily stopped.
They include the Cluster mission, consisting of four probes launched in 2000 to investigate Earth’s magnetic environment and how it is affected by solar wind; the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter launched in 2016 to investigate the red planet’s atmosphere; Mars Express, launched in 2003 and which has been capturing images of the surface of Mars; and the Solar Orbiter mission launched last month to observe the sun.
The eight spacecraft are among 21 currently flown from Darmstadt. The agency said one staff member there has tested positive for COVID-19.
“Our priority is the health of our workforce, and we will therefore reduce activity on some of our scientific missions, especially on interplanetary spacecraft, which currently require the highest number of personnel on site,” ESA’s director of operations, Rolf Densing, said.
He said putting the probes into hibernation would have “a negligible impact” on their missions.
The European Space Agency recently said it was postponing the launch of its joint Mars rover mission with Russia’s Roscosmos until 2022, in part due to travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic.
NASA has also temporarily suspended work on the James Webb Space Telescope in California due to the coronavirus, putting its spring 2021 target launch date in jeopardy. AP

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