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SitRep: North Korea Smuggling Weapons to Egypt; Trump Orders Pyongyang Hacks

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley BREAKING: At least 50 people are dead and over 200 wounded in an attack at a country music festival in Las Vegas Sunday night. Authorities have identified the shooter as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Las Vegas, who opened fire from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel next ...

A cargo ship crosses a new waterway at the Suez Canal during its opening ceremony on August 6, 2015, in the port city of Ismailiya. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a lavish ceremony to unveil a "new" Suez Canal, seeking to boost the country's economy and international standing by expanding the vital waterway.  AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
A cargo ship crosses a new waterway at the Suez Canal during its opening ceremony on August 6, 2015, in the port city of Ismailiya. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a lavish ceremony to unveil a "new" Suez Canal, seeking to boost the country's economy and international standing by expanding the vital waterway. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

BREAKING: At least 50 people are dead and over 200 wounded in an attack at a country music festival in Las Vegas Sunday night. Authorities have identified the shooter as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Las Vegas, who opened fire from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel next to the concert site.

Friends like these. In August, Egyptian authorities seized a boatload of $23 million worth of rocket-propelled grenades shipped from North Korea. And now we know who the mystery customer was: Egypt. The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick reports that the Trump administration froze $30 million of Egyptian aid money over the summer in order to signal Washington’s irritation with the sale of the 30,000 grenades brokered by Egyptian businessmen.

The seizure came just as U.S. forces were preparing to participate in a major war game with Egyptian forces for the first time since 2009, after president Obama called off the long-running exercise over human rights concerns in Egypt.

U.S. hackers vs. DPRK: The U.S. has been disrupting the Internet access of North Korean spies, using distributed denial of service attacks to knock Pyongyang’s hackers off the web, reports the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung, Ellen Nakashima and Emily Rauhala.

The order, authorized by president Trump months ago, ordered U.S. Cyber Command to target hackers in North Korea’s military spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, by swamping their computer servers with traffic that choked off Internet access. The order also instructed American diplomats to constantly nag their counterparts in foreign countries to cut off any and all relations with the North.

Twitter diplomacy. President Trump contradicted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over the weekend, tweeting that Tillerson’s attempts at diplomacy with Pyongyang were a waste of time.

Of horses and barn doors. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweets that the “#DPRK will not obtain a nuclear capability. Whether through diplomacy or force is up to the regime.” For those keeping score at home, North Korea has carried out half a dozen nuclear weapons tests and several missile tests for nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, including two recent tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Speaking of nukes. Susan Glasser of Politico sat down with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who told her that despite president Trump’s rhetoric, the nuclear deal still has a “better than 50” percent chance of surviving.

More from the story: “Zarif called Trump’s harsh attack on Iran in his recent U.N. speech ‘the most insulting statement that had ever been made by any U.S. president against Iran since the Revolution.’ But he said it has backfired, isolating the United States and undermining its credibility ‘as a reliable negotiating partner’ on the world stage….The Europeans have made it very clear to us and to the United States that they intend to do their utmost to ensure survival of the deal,” Zarif said.

Everything must go. After an already banner year of arms sales, the Trump administration is looking to further boost the American arms trade by lifting some restrictions on exports and further enlist diplomats as pitchmen for U.S. weapons.

Casualties in Iraq. The U.S. military command in Baghdad issued a statement Sunday night that “one Coalition service member was killed and another was injured when an IED struck their vehicle Oct.1 in Iraq.” It’s unclear who the servicemembers are. American troops are advising Iraqi forces close to the front lines, but troops from several other countries are also on the ground.

Russian war game. “A recent major exercise by the Russian military revealed significant strides in its ability to conduct the sort of complex, large-scale operations, using drones and other new technology, that would be part of any all-out war with the United States in Europe,” the NYT’s Eric Schmitt reports.

“Western officials said the military maneuvers, known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” far exceeded in scope and scale what Moscow had said it would conduct, and tracked more closely to what American intelligence officials suspected would unfold, based on Russian troop buildups in August.”

Cuba attacks. “Frightening attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana struck the heart of America’s spy network in Cuba, with intelligence operatives among the first and most severely affected victims,” the Associated Press reports.  “It wasn’t until U.S. spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.”

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

Modus operandi. A Somali man carried out what authorities are calling a terrorist attack in Edmonton, Alberta on Sunday, ramming a police officer outside a Canadian Football League game, stabbing him, and then fleeing the scene. The use of a vehicle and a knife — easily available weapons often recommended to would be homegrown terrorists by Islamic State propaganda — as well as a black Islamic State flag found in the man’s car point towards a jihadist motivation for the attack.

In a similar attack in Marseille, France, a man armed with a knife stabbed and killed a fellow train passenger in an attack subsequently claimed by the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency mouthpiece on social media. French police say they’re treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

Price tag. Iraqi Security Forces lost 1,200 troops in the fight to liberate the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, according to a statement from the U.S.-led coalition.

War drums. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told followers that “the current Israeli government, presided over by Netanyahu is leading its people to death and destruction” during a speech marking Ashoura. The warning of a possible war marks yet another sign of growing tensions between Hezbollah and Israel as the Syrian Civil War winds down.

Not me. “Tens of them tell me they were cooks…They had so many cooks, you’d think all they did was eat” — a Kurdish intelligence officer in Iraq, quoted by the New York Times lamenting how often detained Islamic State suspects now claim to have only been lowly officials in the terrorist group rather than fighters.

Yemen. Members of the Houthi movement fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen claim to have shot down an MQ-9 Reaper drone, posting alleged footage of the downing on YouTube.

Child soldiers. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is trafficking child soldiers from Afghanistan’s Shia communities into Syria to serve as cannon fodder in Tehran’s efforts to support the Assad regime, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The human rights organization combed through headstones of Afghan fighters buried in Iran after being killed in Syria and found eight children, the youngest of which was 14, among the dead.

Myanmar. The World Food Program is seeking an additional $75 million in funding to help feed the wave of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

National anthem. A new law passed in China criminalizes the “inappropriate” use of the country’s national anthem. Citizens using “March of the Volunteers” for private or commercial occasions could find themselves in jail for 15 days if caught.

 

Photo Credit: MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/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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