News Briefs – March 30, 2020

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N. Macedonia becomes NATO’s 30th member, ending a long quest

“North Macedonia is now part of the NATO family, a family of 30 nations and almost 1 billion people. A family based on the certainty that, no matter what challenges we face, we are all stronger and safer together,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
North Macedonia’s flag will be raised alongside those of the other 29 member countries at NATO headquarters in Brussels and two other commands simultaneously on March 30.
Given the impact of the coronavirus around the world, Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski said “we cannot rejoice and mark the event as it should (be marked). But, this is a historic success that after three decades of independence, finally confirms Macedonian security and guarantees our future. Congratulations to all of you! We deserve it!”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the country’s membership “will support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security, and stability across the region. North Macedonia’s accession also reaffirms to other aspirants that NATO’s door remains open to those countries willing and able to make the reforms necessary to meet NATO’s high standards, and to accept the responsibilities as well as benefits of membership.”
It marks the end of a long quest for the former Yugoslav republic. Joining NATO and the European Union has been a priority for its leaders, but a dispute with neighboring Greece over the country’s name stalled progress for more than two decades.
North Macedonia previously was known as Macedonia, a name it shared with a Greek province. Under a 2017 deal with Athens, the country changed its name and Greece agreed to drop objections to its NATO and eventual EU membership.
It’s been a big week for North Macedonia. On March 26, European Union leaders gave the small Balkans country the green light to begin EU membership talks. AP
 

U.S.-led forces pull out of 3rd Iraqi base this month

The U.S.-led coalition withdrew on March 29 from a military base in northern Iraq that nearly launched Washington into an open war with neighboring Iran.
The K1 Air Base is the third site coalition forces have left this month in line with U.S. plans to consolidate its troops in two locations in Iraq.
A rocket attack on the base in late December killed one American contractor and lead to a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the U.S. and Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups. The attacks culminated in the U.S.-directed killing of top Iranian general Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Coalition forces handed over the K1 air base in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk to Iraq’s military, according to a coalition statement. At least $1.1 million of equipment was transferred to the Iraqis as 300 coalition personnel departed.
K1 has hosted coalition forces since 2017 to launch operations against the Islamic State group in the nearby mountainous areas. Areas south of Kirkuk, and north of neighboring provinces of Diyala, Salahaddin and Nineveh remain hot beds of IS activity.
The stretch of territory is also disputed between the federal Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which has created security gaps benefiting IS militants. The coalition’s presence had at times been a mediating presence between the two competing authorities.
A senior coalition official earlier this month claimed IS forces weren’t as able to exploit the “security gap” between Iraqi and Kurdish forces as the militants did in the past.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that Daesh is free to operate in the way that they wish,” said the official, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group. “They’re still pretty constrained.”
The coalition official was speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
U.S.-led forces have already withdrawn this month from Qaim, near the border with Syria and Qayara base, in Nineveh earlier. All were in line with plans to pullout from bases across Iraq and consolidate coalition forces in Baghdad and at Ain al-Asad Air Base in the country’s western desert.
The plan has been in the works since late last year, the senior coalition military official said, and accelerated when Iraqi forces proved they were capable of facing the threat from the IS with limited coalition assistance.
Coalition officials said they would still assist Iraqi forces with air support and surveillance, but significantly cut back on training and ground operations, as the limited withdrawal continues.
Until last month, there were some 7,500 coalition troops based in Iraq, including 5,000 U.S. forces. AP
 
 
 

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