SitRep: North Korea Waiting Game; Mattis on War, Dr. Strangelove, Afghanistan, And More
The Prince option in Afghanistan, Bannon in the hot seat, and lots more.
By Paul McLeary
North Korea waits. It looks like the Kim Jong Un will wait a bit before firing off ballistic missiles in the direction of Guam, as his regime has threatened to do. Kim, who was reportedly briefed on the details of the plan Monday, said he would hold off and see “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity,” before making any decision, North Korean media reported.
Washington and Tokyo move. While he waits, top American and Japanese officials will huddle in Washington this week for a meeting of the Security Consultative Committee, the first time the group has met since since April 2015. The talks will bring together Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on one side and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis on the other.
Mattis stopped by the press bullpen at the Pentagon on Monday for an informal, off-camera press conference — he was on his way back to his office from the dry cleaner — and said if Pyongyang loosed missiles toward Guam, “we’ll take it out.”
“If they shoot at the United States, I’m assuming they hit the United States. If they do that, it’s game on,” he said, adding, “you don’t shoot at people in the world unless you want to bear the consequences. I think if they fire at the United States it could escalate into war very quickly,” Mattis said.
He insisted, however, that he’s not spoiling for a fight. “We will defend the country from any attack, at any time, from any quarter…but it is not declaring war. It’s not that I’m over here, you know, Dr. Strangelove, doing things like that, OK?
The Erik Prince option. Mattis also confirmed that the White House is considering replacing U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan with contractors, as was recommended by former Blackwater head Erik Prince. “It’s part of the options being considered,” Mattis said. “And the president’s open to the advice of the secretary of state, and myself and the director of the CIA.” According to reports, virtually the entire cabinet is opposed to the idea. Yet, it persists.
Afghanistan strategy. Rinse and repeat. “I believe we are close,” the SecDef said, repeating a line U.S. officials have been using since at least April. “The president, as I told you before, has delegated a fair amount of tactical and operational decision making to me. He has not delegated one ounce of the strategic decision making, nor should he, nor would I expect that.”
Trump transgender ban. “The fact is, we have received no direction that would indicate any harm to anybody right now.”
Washington draws closer to Cairo. “In the latest sign the Trump administration is looking to overturn Obama-era policy at home and abroad, the U.S. military is preparing to restart a long-running military exercise with Egypt after President Barack Obama cancelled it in 2013 to protest the killing of hundreds of protesters in Cairo,” FP’s Paul McLeary writes in an exclusive story.
“The restart next month of the Bright Star exercise, a bilateral effort now focused on counterterrorism operations, comes as Egypt struggles to contain a potent insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula. Though Egypt may invite other countries such as Sudan as observers, only U.S. and Egyptian forces will take the field, U.S. defense officials said.” More here.
Bannon in Limbo. NYT: “Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him. Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s former communications director, thrashed him on television as a white nationalist. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, refused to even say he could work with him.
“For months, Mr. Trump has considered ousting Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a ‘platform for the alt-right.’ Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides and friends of the president.”
Shiite militias pushing forward in Iraq. The often Iranian-backed Shiite militias in northern Iraq have largely held their fire for the past year as Iraqi government forces took Mosul from the Islamic State. But now they want in. “Today we want to speak loud and clear that [the PMF] are actively involved in Tal Afar military operations and will participate in all areas where operations are taking place,” spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi told reporters in Baghdad.
The militias have in the past been accused of sectarian killings, and their very presence on the battlefield stirs up resentment and fear among the local Sunni population, but the groups want to be involved in the fight. It’s up to Baghdad to decide.
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Iranian drone buzzes USS Nimitz for the second time this week. (Reuters)
Inside the Hue City chiefs mess meltdown and sexscandal (Navy Times)
Sen. McCain decries criticism of McMaster as ‘smear tactics’ (AP)
Syria investigator del Ponte says enough evidence to convict Assad of war crimes (Reuters)
Philippines says China has agreed no new expansion in South China Sea. (Reuters)
U.S. sanctions hit Russian hopes of a ‘Trump bump’ for investment. (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia and Iraq to re-open border crossing after 27 years. (Reuters)
Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images