SitRep: Mattis Taking Time on Transgender Issue; North Korea Brushing off Trump’s Rhetoric

SitRep: Mattis Taking Time on Transgender Issue; North Korea Brushing off Trump’s Rhetoric


With Adam Rawnsley

No freeze. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced Tuesday night that there would be no immediate change in the Pentagon’s policy toward currently serving transgender personnel until he hears the findings of a panel — which he has yet to name — tasked with studying the issue.

Despite a rash of headlines following the Pentagon announcement suggesting that Mattis is bucking last week’s presidential directive calling for a total ban on transgender servicemembers, the Defense Secretary is actually just sticking to the letter of what the president ordered.

Trump’s Aug. 25 memorandum stated that Mattis, in “consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall submit to me a plan” by Feb. 21, 2018. So instead of leading a rebellion against a presidential decision, all the SecDef is doing is using the language within the order to let the process run as it was designed to, and push a decision off until next year.

No fear. North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un isn’t afraid of tough talk from Washington. And why should he be? He has seen successive U.S. administrations threaten his country with military action and sanctions, then rush to the negotiating table despite his country’s repeated violations of previous agreements. Writing in Politico, former senior director for nonproliferation and arms control at the Obama White House Jon Wolfsthal outlines the lessons Kim has likely learned from those past episodes.

On Tuesday, Kim stepped up his game, promising more missile tests and again threatening Guam, which houses two American military bases, even as the United Nations condemned the medium-range ballistic missile as “outrageous.”

No choice. Japan, like the rest of the world, really has no good options for dealing with North Korea, writes Michael Penn in FP.

Our man in Seoul. The Trump administration is finally about to nominate an ambassador to South Korea. The White House is expected to name Victor Cha, a widely-respected academic and former George W. Bush National Security Council Asia hand, as its envoy to Seoul.

Houston help. Up to 30,000 National Guard troops could take part in the recovery efforts in and around Houston in the coming days, the pentagon said on Tuesday. Other assets, like the USS Kearsarge, and USS Oak Hill, might also take part.

Dig it. “The United States has already spent almost half a billion dollars on Afghanistan’s mining industry with little to show, but the Trump administration still appears determined to move forward with plans to tap the country’s buried wealth,” FP’s Elias Groll writes in a scoop.

Describing the country’s mineral deposits as potentially transformative for a country its size, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Foreign Policy that he has delivered a plan to President Donald Trump to get the Afghan economy back on its feet. “The whole idea of it is to try to figure out how to make Afghanistan a self-sufficient country that can provide jobs for its people and its own budget,” Ross said in an interview.

The guns of August. In the latest incident in what is becoming a common occurrence, Turkish-backed rebels fired on U.S. Special Operations Forces patrolling in northern Syria last week. No Americans were injured, but they did return fire and move to another location, Pentagon officials said.  

Thug life. Just weeks before Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to arrive in New York for an annual United Nations summit, a grand jury in Washington, DC has indicted 15 Turkish security officials for attacking and beating peaceful protesters in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington when Erdogan was in town in May.  The 15 “are charged with conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, a felony punishable by a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison. Several face additional charges of assault with a deadly weapon.”

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

No sale. During a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Monday, president Trump crowed that Finland was buying new fighter jets from American planemaker Boeing. “One of the things that is happening is you’re purchasing large amounts of our great F-18 aircraft from Boeing and it’s one of the great planes, the great fighter jets,” Trump said. Only problem is that Niinisto said on Tuesday that Finland had no plans to buy the aircraft from the U.S. or anyone else.

Call and response. North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile over Japan could prompt a range of responses from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan to defend against Pyongyang’s increasingly provocative acts. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is now under pressure to deploy more U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems on South Korean territory despite Chinese opposition. And Japan is looking to increase its missile defenses and speed up the purchase of Aegis Ashore systems. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has also discussed the possibility of deploying American strategic assets back to South Korea.

Flexing. In the meantime, South Korea is showing off its own missiles in response to North Korea’s recent tests, demonstrating its capability to strike at North Korean leadership in the event of war. South Korea’s military released test footage of a new ballistic missile alongside footage of F-15K jets dropping Mk-84 bombs.

Missile factories. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran “is building sites to produce precision-guided missiles toward that end in both Syria and in Lebanon” shortly before his meeting with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, arguing that “it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel.”

Klub Med. Russia is beefing up its naval presence in the Mediterranean, announcing the deployment of two new improved Kilo class submarines, the Kolpino and Veliky Novgorod, from the Black Sea fleet.

Observers. NATO is sending three observers to watch Russia’s upcoming Zapad exercises in Belarus and Kaliningrad for a “Visitor’s Day,” but would like to send more. Western countries have been anxious about the possibility that Zapad could conceal Russian military mobilization and have asked Moscow for greater transparency about the exercises.

Not so secret air base. The U.S. Air Force has revealed what many have known for a long time — it’s running part of the air war against the Islamic State out of the Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. The base is home to several American surveillance and tanker aircraft, as well as F-22 fighter jets.

Bug bounty. After the U.S. Army banned troops from using the popular DJI Phantom hobby drone, citing unspecified “cyber vulnerabilities,” the Chinese firm that makes the quadrotor announced the launch of a bug bounty program. Cybersecurity researchers can now claim rewards of up to $30,000 for reporting any vulnerabilities they discover in the drone’s software.

The demo to end all demos. Israel has pulled the export license of Aeronautics Defense Systems after the company tried to use one of its loitering munitions to bomb Armenian troops during a sales pitch for neighbor and rival Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan reportedly asked the company to test its Orbiter 1K “suicide drone” on Armenian troops and two company employees refused, only to be overruled by superiors who ended up missing their targets after trying to pilot the aircraft themselves.

Statues. Russia is reportedly planning on putting up a statue Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the iconic and ubiquitous AK-47 rifle, in Moscow.

Secret selfies. Montenegro has shown off surveillance photos of what it says are meetings between Russian military intelligence officers and plotters accused of attempting to mount a coup against the country’s pro-NATO prime minister, Milo Djukanovic


Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images