- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is the Pentagon reporter for Foreign Policy., Adam RawnsleyAdam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.
Nuclear Friday. North Korea conducted its fifth underground nuclear test — and second this year — on Friday, shrugging off threats of deeper sanctions from the United States and the U.N. in the process. The test demonstrated a “nuclear warhead that has been standardized to be able to be mounted on” its ballistic missiles the North proclaimed in a statement.
The South Korean government confirmed the test on Friday after recording “an unnatural” artificial tremor originating from Punggye-ri, where the North has conducted four previous tests. Officials in the South and other experts said that the test was the country’s largest to date, sparking worries that the country is making real progress in its efforts to build a functional nuclear warhead.
North testing like never before. The pace and tenor of North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests have undergone a “big change” this year, Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation told SitRep. Since February, North Korea has fired off more than 30 ballistic missiles with a range of at least 200 km, “more than the number fired previously by North Korea, ever,” he said via email. “These more extensive tests should allow North Korea to convert its missile force from a strategic threat/showcase to an operational force that seriously jeopardizes all of its neighbors, including China.”
As usual, the international community reacted with outrage. China said it was “firmly opposed” to the test, while Japan “protested adamantly” and U.S. president Barack Obama — on his way home from his last trip to Asia as president — warned of “serious consequences.”
More reax. Karl Dewey, an analyst at IHS Jane’s said in a statement that the threat of further sanctions is hardly a deterrent to the regime of Kim Jong Un, as his military “is thought to have a small standing stock of nuclear weapons, with some estimates placing the national inventory around 15-20 weapons. Sanctions will not have affected this stockpile, or the North’s ability to test.”
The Center for Naval Analysis recently dropped a new look at efforts to deter the North Korean regime, coming to the conclusion that as Kim Jong-un continues to consolidate his power, South Korea and the United States “should expect that provocations will continue to be a part of North Korea’s strategy.”
The calm before Mosul. As many as 500 more U.S. troops have moved into Iraq over the past week, as Baghdad prepares to storm the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in the coming weeks. The deployment pushes the official number of U.S. troops in the country to about 4,400, defense officials said Thursday. President Obama ordered troop increases in Iraq earlier this year, but the troops have only recently begun to arrive as final preparations are made for what is expected to be a long and bloody battle for Iraq’s second-largest city.
Many of those troops are expected to move north to the recently recaptured Qayyarah Air Base just south of Mosul, where Iraqi forces will stage for the fight. American officials say they’ll be conducting logistics and intelligence operations from the base — along with firing artillery at ISIS positions. The fight looks like it’ll kick off some time next month in order to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi’s timeline to retake the city by the end of the year. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, told the Wall Street Journal in a story published Thursday that “ultimately, if the desire is to try to get it done around the end of the year, we’re going to have to start soon.” Spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, Col. John Dorrian, estimated Thursday that there are about 3,000 to 4,500 ISIS fighters in Mosul.
SEAL raids. American commandos killed seven men thought to be Taliban fighters during a raid launched last month to free two hostages — an American and an Australian — who were kidnapped in Kabul in early August. The team of Navy SEALS who conducted the raid had actually been airborne the day before the raid, but were unable to get the White House to sign off on the raid in time. It’s unclear when the hostages were moved from the location, or where they are now.
Geneva to Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are back in Geneva, trying to salvage any hope of the two countries brokering a ceasefire in Syria that would ground the Syrian air force and break the sieges of Aleppo and other cities being squeezed by the regime. Officials travelling with Kerry don’t sound hopeful about reaching a deal, according to the Wall Street Journal, reflecting a recent FP story in which a senior defense official said “I don’t trust the Russians one iota…No one thinks that any of this is actually going to come to pass.”
Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
An airstrike in Aleppo province has killed the top military official in al Qaeda’s erstwhile affiliate in Syria, Reuters reports. Jaish al-Fateh announced that Abu Omar Saraqeb died in the airstrike, which hit a meeting of the group’s senior leadership. The group, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, recently announced that it had ended its relationship as al al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria in what many believe was an attempt to dissuade the U.S. from further targeting it. Nonetheless, rebel sources tell the wire service that they believe the airstrike which killed Saraqeeb was carried out by an American jet.
Seventy three aid groups operating in Syria are pulling out of the U.N.’s information-sharing program, citing concerns that the Assad regime has managed to compromise the integrity and neutrality of the international body’s humanitarian operations in the country. In a letter to the U.N., the groups also accuse the Syrian Arab Red Crescent of having its decisions “shaped by the political influence of the Syrian government.” The groups were particularly critical of what they say is excessive deference towards the regime by the U.N. office in Damascus.
Three U.S. Air Force veterans have filed court papers supporting a Yemeni man’s lawsuit over the death of his brother-in-law and nephew in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, according to the Los Angeles Times. The three veterans, who worked on different aspects of drone programs, say they have no direct knowledge of the strike that killed Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s family members. Nonetheless, they say their experience taught them that the military will sometimes label deaths of unknown persons at the scene of a drone strike as “enemy kills.”
The Air Force may soon have the drone swarms it’s always wanted. National Defense magazine reports that the Defense Department’s strategic capabilities office is working on a program for fighter jets to act as motherships for deploying swarms of small surveillance drones the size of soda bottles. The program, dubbed “Perdix,” would use cheap, disposable, 3-D printed drones launched from canisters inside an F-16’s flare dispensers. William Roper, head of the strategic capabilities office, says the research shop have already tested the system in over 500 F-16 flights.
Navy drones have been measuring the effects of climate change in the Arctic in order to figure out which areas could soon become areas of strategic competition between the United States and Russia. The Navy’s Updated Arctic Road Map uses unmanned underwater autonomous robots like the Seaglider to measure temperature and salinity. The melting ice in the Arctic has opened up access to mineral and energy resources as well as new waterways. Russia has moved quickly to take advantage of the new access and some worry that it could lead to new tensions between countries with territory along the Arctic.
The Marine Corps has punished 20 officers and enlisted personnel following an investigation into the suicide of a Muslim recruit who was allegedly subjected to racist abuse and hazing during training. Raheel Siddiqui died after jumping from a stairwell during training after allegedly being singled out for abuse by drill instructors. The three top officials from Siddiqui’s unit have already been fired, according to the AP, and a further 17 Marine officials have been temporarily relieved.
Russia’s navy just signed a contract for a half dozen new diesel electric-submarines, UPI reports. The contract with the Admiralty Shipyard requires the six Kilo-class subs to be delivered by 2021. The vessels are earmarked for Russia’s Pacific fleet.
Photo Credit: KNS/AFP/Getty Images