SitRep: North Korean Missiles and Trump Tweets; U.S. Commandos in the Baltics
China Keeping Powder Dry For Now; ISIS in Mosul, Istanbul; and Baghdad; And Lots More
Sure shot. A day after North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un boasted his country was making final preparations to conduct its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, President-elect Donald Trump fired off a tweet promising, “It won’t happen!”
Trump slightly exaggerated Kim’s comments, writing that Kim claimed North Korea “is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S.,” when the despotic leader actually was bragging about his long-range missiles. Now, there’s little doubt that Pyongyang wants long-range nukes, but the country has only managed to test nuclear weapons underground up to this point. After Kim’s latest nuke test last September, FP dove deep on the North’s missile capabilities and what Washington is doing to counter them. Experts told Reuters Monday that while Kim’s boasts are plausible, the North is still likely years away from a reliable ICBM capability.
China shrugs it off. Three weeks out from Trump’s inauguration, and the betting pools are heating up over what will be the new administration’s first international crisis. These things tend to happen quickly, and in a place that few expect, but this North Korea business is just beginning.
Hours after his North Korea tweet, Trump again poked China, which is emerging has his favorite punching bag, writing, “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Monday that China’s efforts to bring North Korea into the realm of the global political system “are clear for all to see,” and relations between the U.S. and China should be “properly addressed through dialogue and consultation.”
He added, “we don’t pay attention to the features of foreign leaders’ behavior. We focus more on their policies.” Problem is, no one quite knows if Trump’s tweets are policy, or simply behavior.
IS ISIS running out of juice in Mosul? Since kicking off its offensive against ISIS fighters holding Mosul in October, Baghdad’s troops have only been able to retake about a quarter of the city. But with a new offensive underway, the U.S. general in charge of American and coalition ground troops in Iraq told Reuters over the weekend that the terrorists’ “capability is waning” and their “resources are starting to dwindle.” U.S. Army Major General Joseph Martin said his assessment is based in part on the smaller explosive yields that ISIS suicide bombers are throwing at Iraqi forces, which tells him “the enemy’s capacity is diminishing over time. We see that as a positive indicator.”
But that only means so much. A day after Martin’s comments on Sunday, ISIS suicide bombers delivered five car bombs to Baghdad which killed at least 64 people.
Not just numbers. In other ISIS news, the U.S. Central Command announced Monday “it is more likely than not, at least 188 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes” since the start of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in August 2014. Overall, the Washington and its coalition partners have conducted over 17,000 strikes against Islamic State as of Dec. 30, according to figures provided by the U.S. military. Those casualty numbers are far lower that those arrived at by independent groups such as AirWars, which estimates at least 2,100 civilian deaths since the campaign began.
Must read. FP’s David Kenner has a harrowing interview with Omar al-Jubory, an Iraqi journalist and former resident of Mosul, who recounts his struggles reporting under the nose of Islamic State fighters, his arrest, torture, and escape from an ISIS prison.
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: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
The Defense Department has been sending American special operations forces to the Baltics in order to calm nerves there, recently frazzled by a more aggressive Russia and the election of the famously Putin-friendly Donald Trump. The New York Times reports that Special Operations Command chief Gen. Raymond Thomas says that U.S. operators now have a “persistent” footprint in the Baltics, and that Russia has taken note. The U.S. has sent around a dozen troops to each of the three Baltic countries in order to assist with intelligence gathering.
Germany says it foiled an Islamic State-linked terrorist attack plotted by a Syrian refugee in contact with the group. Agence France Presse reports that authorities claim the man reached out to the group via the social media messaging app Telegram, requesting $188,000 for an attack involving multiple vehicles stuffed with hundreds of pounds of explosives. Germany has been on edge after a Tunisian man attacked a Christmas market with a truck, killing a dozen people.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a New Year’s Eve nightclub attack in Turkey which killed 39 people. The Islamic State-linked propaganda mouthpiece, the Amaq news agency, issued a statement calling the suspected attacker a “heroic soldier of the caliphate.” The attacker, believed by Turkish authorities to be of either Uzbek or Kyrgyz nationality, has yet to be apprehended but Turkish police arrested eight people they claim were linked to the attack.
Syrian rebel groups are saying they’re going to boycott Russian-led peace talks, Reuters reports. The Free Syrian Army cited what it says were repeated violations of a ceasefire by Assad regime-aligned Iranian militias looking to claw back more territory from rebels. In particular, they say the Assad regime is trying to recapture rebel-held areas outside Damascus which supply water to the capital. Russia and Turkey negotiated the ceasefire and had planned for rebel groups to head to Kazakhstan for negotiations to end the conflict.
Photo Credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
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