The Cable

SitRep: Trump Issues New Threat To Kim Jong Un, North Korea And Iran Double Down

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Action, reaction. Within three days of President Donald Trump threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea and calling Iran a “corrupt dictatorship,” both countries say they’re doubling down on their nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. North Korea’s foreign minister told reporters at the United Nations his country could test ...

The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr is displayed during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, on September 22,2017 in Tehran,
President Hassan Rouhani vowed that Iran would boost its ballistic missile capabilities despite criticism from the United States and also France. / AFP PHOTO / str        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
The new Iranian long range missile Khoramshahr is displayed during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, on September 22,2017 in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani vowed that Iran would boost its ballistic missile capabilities despite criticism from the United States and also France. / AFP PHOTO / str (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Action, reaction. Within three days of President Donald Trump threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea and calling Iran a “corrupt dictatorship,” both countries say they’re doubling down on their nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

North Korea’s foreign minister told reporters at the United Nations his country could test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific. Any such test would likely fly over Japan, potentially triggering a response from the U.S. or Japanese missile defense systems. In an unprecedented move, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also delivered a rare televised speech Thursday, calling Trump “mentally deranged.”

In response, Trump took to Twitter Friday morning, writing that “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!”

Iranian response. During a military parade in Tehran on Friday, Iranian President Hassan Rohani vowed to continue developing missiles. “We will increase our military power as a deterrent. We will strengthen our missile capabilities,” Rohani said. “We will not seek permission from anyone to defend our country.” Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif also said on Thursday that if the Trump administration wants to change the terms of the nuclear deal with Tehran, his country will demand Washington make concessions, too.

Pentagon wants tactical nukes? We already have them. So says FP contributor Jeffrey Lewis, who points out that even in the Obama years, the U.S. was developing new nuclear capabilities.

“Yes, Virginia, the United States has low-yield nuclear weapons. The B61 family of gravity bombs and W80 cruise missile warheads both have a ‘variable yield’ function that allows them to explode well below their full yield, presumably by just detonating the fission bomb at the heart of a thermonuclear weapon. The B61 Mod 10, for example, was a ‘dial-a-yield’ device that could be set for a range of options from the full yield of 80 kilotons down to about 300 tons. Three hundred tons! The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki was more than 50 times larger.”

First 2,700 soldiers leave for Afghanistan. The Pentagon and White House have said for months that they won’t comment on the number of troops they’re sending to Afghanistan, arguing that knowing how many more Americans are in their country would somehow help the Taliban.

But no administration can secretly ship thousands of troops off to war without their families — and local news outlets — noticing. And so we have it that over the past several days, newspapers in Alaska, New York, and North Carolina have reported on departure events for some 2,700 troops.

First up is the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina, which tells us that 1,200 soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg are shipping out to Afghanistan as part of the Trump surge.

Next is yourAlaskalink.com, which noted that about 900 soldiers from the Alaska-based 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are on their way to Afghanistan.

Finally, the Watertown Daily News in New York reports that 600 soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum are also packing up to go.

Local journalism, folks. It works.

Russian and U.S. troops facing off in Syria. A Russian general threatened on Thursday to strike U.S. special operations troops and their Syrian partners, deepening a growing crisis just days after Russian jets bombed Americans and their allies near the Islamic State-held city of Deir Ezzor.

FP’s Paul McLeary reports that American and Russian military commanders are establishing new ways to communicate in Syria, in an attempt to ensure they don’t bump into one another. “American special operations forces embedded with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Russian commandos working alongside pro-Syrian government fighters are only miles apart in and around the Islamic State stronghold of Deir Ezzor, and there is growing concern that they could turn their weapons on each other as the two sides race to claim the oil-rich province.”

Online radicals. British Prime Minister Theresa May called on technology firms to radically increase the speed with which they remove terrorist content from the internet after a series of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom carried out by individuals who were radicalized online, FP’s Emily Tamkin and Elias Groll report.

Bioweapons. As the Trump administration talks border walls and North Korean nukes, scientists are sounding the alarm on potential biological attacks, writes FP’s Jenna McLaughlin.

Marines. The first Marine Corps female officer will take command of an infantry platoon after her graduation from the Infantry Officer Course. The Marine, thus far unnamed, is a lieutenant and the first woman to make it through the demanding course.

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

Manafort. The Wall Street Journal has learned a little more about the FBI’s surveillance on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which began in August 2016 after he was fired from the campaign. The warrant did not allow for wiretaps on Manafort’s phone but may have been used to allow surveillance on his email and other electronic communications. Investigators looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election have uncovered reports of Russian officials discussing Manafort and some believe Manafort may have been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives as early as 2015.

Fake news. U.S. Forces Korea is trying to squash false rumors about a fictitious emergency evacuation of noncombatants similar to the kind the U.S. would order in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula. It’s unclear who’s behind the fake evacuation warnings, spread by text messages and Facebook, but U.S. Forces Korea is urging those in receipt of them to contact U.S. Army counterintelligence.

Today in trolling. Russia’s diplomatic Twitter accounts are maintaining their typically trolly standards. On Thursday, the Twitter account of Russia’s embassy in South Africa accused the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic forces of “work[ing] to same goals as Daesh” alleging that Russian “drones & intelligence haven’t recorded ANY confrontations between #ISIS & #SDF.” In the meantime, SDF forces have captured around 80 percent of the Islamic State’s capital in Raqqa, according to a statement released by the group.

Spoofing. Commercial ships transiting the Black Sea have been reporting frequent problems with their GPS-powered automatic identification systems and now many experts believe the Russian government has been interfering with GPS signals in the region. Experts say the spoofing attacks are dangerous, misleading ship captains about the locations of their vessels, which could lead to potentially lethal accidents.

Idlib. Turkish forces are planning to head into Syria’s Idlib province, which is now under the control of the al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al Sham group. The move aims to create so-called de-escalation zones, agreed to in talks between Turkey and Russia, with Turkish forces policing the buffer zones inside Idlib and Russian troops providing security outside.

This again. President Trump heaped praise on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday after Erdogan supporters once again assaulted protesters on American soil. The violence began when Erdogan fans beat three protesters who called the Turkish leader a “terrorist” during his speech to the Turkish-American National Steering Committee. When Trump met with Erdogan hours later at the United Nations, he said the Turkish president deserved “high marks” for his leadership in a difficult region.

Weird this is. Saudi Arabia is currently trying to figure out how a picture of Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda seated next to former regent King Faisal made it into a textbook for high school students in the country.

Clean up. Iraq is getting ready to clear out the town of Hawija, one of the last remaining holdouts of Islamic State territory in the country. Humanitarian groups are warning that there may be as many as 30,000 children trapped inside the town

Nationalism. Iraqi Kurdis, feeling newly empowered by their successful campaign to oust the Islamic State, are moving forward with a referendum on creating an independent country. But the move for an independence vote is garnering significant opposition from abroad. U.S. Special Envoy Brett McGurk has called the prospect of an independence referendum “provocative and destabilizing,” Turkey has been carrying out intimidating military exercises along the border with Iraq, and Iran has threatened an embargo if the referendum goes through.

Analytics. A new study from Policy Exchange says that Turkey is the largest source of clicks on al Qaeda and Islamic State propaganda, followed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Great Britain.

Real genius. Air Force Special Operations Command’s laser-equipped AC-130J will reach initial operational capability, according to Flight Global. A demonstration of the weapon isn’t expected until 2020 but the plane is swapping out additional fuel tanks to make room for its laser and will sport a 30mm, small diameter bombs, and guided missiles.  

 

Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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