News Briefs – April 8, 2020

Taliban warn peace deal with U.S. near breaking point

The Taliban said their peace deal with the United States was nearing a breaking point, accusing Washington of violations that included drone attacks on civilians, while also chastising the Afghan government for delaying the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners promised in the agreement.
The Taliban said they had restricted attacks against Afghan security forces to rural outposts, had not attacked international forces and had not attacked Afghan forces in cities or military installations. The Taliban said these limits on their attacks had not been specifically laid out in the agreement with the U.S. signed in February.
The Taliban’s statement issued April 5 warned of more violence if the U.S. and the Afghan government continue alleged violations of the deal.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett in a tweet overnight denied the Taliban allegation, saying the U.S. forces in Afghanistan has “upheld and continues to uphold the military terms of the U.S.-TB (Taliban) agreement; any assertion otherwise is baseless.”
In his tweet, Leggett called for Taliban to reduce violence and said the U.S. military will continue to come to the aid of Afghanistan’s security forces if attacked, in line with the agreement.
Meanwhile, the militants said they had reduced their attacks compared to last year, but said continued violations would “create an atmosphere of mistrust that will not only damage the agreements, but also force mujaheddin to a similar response and will increase the level of fighting.”
The Taliban have accused the Afghan government of using “indefensible arguments” to explain the repeated delays in releasing a promised 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 government personnel. The Afghan government’s foot-dragging has also left Washington frustrated. AP

U.S. says airstrike in Somalia kills an al-Shabab leader

The U.S. military said April 7 it has killed a high-ranking leader of the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group with an airstrike in Somalia.
A statement by the U.S. Africa Command said Yusuf Jiis was one of three extremists killed in the April 2 airstrike near Bush Madina in the Bay region.
The U.S. called Jiis a “foundational member” of al-Shabab, which controls parts of central and southern Somalia and frequently carries out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.
“While we might like to pause our operations in Somalia because of the coronavirus, the leaders of al Qaeda, al-Shabaab and ISIS have announced that they see this crisis as an opportunity to further their terrorist agenda so we will continue to stand with and support our African partners,” AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend said.
The U.S. in a separate statement said an airstrike on Monday killed five al-Shabab members near Jilib.
The statement said the U.S. was aware of reports alleging that the airstrike killed civilians but that AFRICOM assesses none were killed.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. been accused of killing civilians with airstrikes in Somalia. AFRICOM last week announced it would publish a quarterly report addressing allegations, the same day Amnesty International released its latest investigation into airstrikes and said two strikes in February had killed two civilians and injured three others. AP

U.S. delivers 128 anti-tank Javelin missiles to Estonia

The United States says it has delivered 128 anti-tank Javelin missiles to Estonia as part of a larger contract with the Baltic NATO member and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn said in a statement on April 2 that “the shipment will continue to build upon Estonia’s defensive capabilities and further strengthens our nations’ strategic integration” within NATO, of which Estonia has been a member since 2004.
Washington has provided Estonia, a staunch military ally, with over $100 million in joint defense cooperation over the past few years, the U.S. Embassy said.
The FGM-148 Javelin is an infrared-guided anti-tank missile that can be carried and launched by a single person. It is manufactured by a joint venture between Raytheon Company and Lockheed Martin Corp.
In December, the Estonian defense ministry said the United States has allocated $175 million in military aid to the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for 2020.
The three countries are all NATO members and all of them border Russia. AP

Spirit AeroSystems announces temporary layoffs

Thousands of Spirit AeroSystems employees in Wichita, Kansas, and other locations are being furloughed for three weeks without pay amid an outbreak of a novel coronavirus that has paralyzed air travel around the globe.
Most managers and hourly employees at Spirit, Wichita’s largest employer, were informed in a company email that they will be placed on 21-day unpaid leave starting April 8, the Wichita Eagle reported. It’s unclear exactly how many employees will be affected. The aircraft parts maker’s company profile says it employs around 18,000.
The temporary layoffs apply to Spirit employees associated with the company’s Boeing commercial program. It includes Spirit employees in San Antonio and in Tulsa and McAlester locations in Oklahoma.
Furloughed workers will continue to receive benefits, including health care, for the full three weeks of the temporary leave.
Other workers at Spirit will continue as they have been, including those associated with military and non-Boeing work.
The unpaid furlough announcement comes two weeks after Spirit announced it was temporarily halting work for Boeing, but would continue to pay workers during the two-week period. AP

Boeing to continue production shutdown due to coronavirus

Boeing said April 5 it will continue its shutdown of production indefinitely at its Seattle area facilities due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The company in an email to Washington employees said it is extending the planned two-week shutdown rather than reopening April 8. The decision affects about 30,000 of Boeing’s 70,000 employees in the state.
The company said the decision is based on the health and safety of its employees, assessment of the coronavirus spread, supply chain concerns and recommendations from government health officials.
“The health and safety of our employees, their families and our communities is our shared priority,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal. “We will take this time to continue to listen to our incredible team, and assess applicable government direction, the spread of the coronavirus in the community, and the reliability of our suppliers to ensure we are ready for a safe and orderly return to operations.”
A spokesman told The Seattle Times that employees are receiving their regular salaries during the two-week shutdown, but will have to transition to vacation or sick leave after that.
The company said that at the end of the day April 3, it had 133 confirmed cases among employees worldwide, up from 118 a day earlier. Of those, 95 employees are in Washington.
Washington State has 7,666 confirmed cases of the virus and 322 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally on Sunday afternoon.
The coronavirus mainly is spread through coughs and sneezes. For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. AP