The U.S. Navy will transfer command of counterpiracy maritime efforts to the Turkish Navy on Sunday, according to a Navy news release. The move marks the first time Turkey will command a Combined Maritime Forces Task Force.

Since its inception in January, U.S. ships have led the counterpiracy effort, called Combined Task Force 151, under the Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Middle East.

Turkey now will lead the multinational effort that patrols and monitors 1.1 million square miles of water, including the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Shipping lanes there are used by roughly 23,000 commercial vessels each year.

Governmental instability and poverty in Somalia have given rise to piracy attacks on merchant vessels. The U.S. Navy, which had led efforts to safeguard waterways, says 24 ships have been hijacked this year, and pirates have made an additional 53 unsuccessful highjacking attempts. That’s well ahead of 2008’s pace, when a record 40 ships were hijacked.

As of early this week, pirates still held 17 ships and more than 270 crewmembers captive for ransom, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet.

Army: Disease samples likely destroyedFREDERICK, Md. — An investigation of three disease samples missing from a Fort Detrick lab found that the samples were likely destroyed, according to Army officials.

Samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis were discovered missing last year in an inventory of a group of samples left by a departing researcher, said Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.

States seek funding for Guard programSANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Bill Richardson and three other governors are asking congressional leaders to fully fund a long-standing program in which National Guard troops help with anti-drug efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The requested funding would increase New Mexico’s budget for the anti-drug mission by about $5 million and allow for the deployment of 100 additional National Guard personnel.

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