The Cable

SitRep: South Korea, Japan React to North’s Latest Launch; Still No Afghanistan Plan

  With Adam Rawnsley Fire and fury. North Korea continued its months-long barrage of missile tests on Tuesday when it launched a ballistic missile directly over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, causing Tokyo to warn residents in its path to take cover. Luckily, the missile splashed down harmlessly in the sea, after a flight ...

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 5, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the defence detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet located in the southernmost part of the waters off the southwest front. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT   ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP.  /         (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 5, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the defence detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet located in the southernmost part of the waters off the southwest front. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

With Adam Rawnsley

Fire and fury. North Korea continued its months-long barrage of missile tests on Tuesday when it launched a ballistic missile directly over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, causing Tokyo to warn residents in its path to take cover. Luckily, the missile splashed down harmlessly in the sea, after a flight of nearly 1,700 miles.

South Korea goes big. In response, South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered the military “to display its capabilities that can overwhelm North Korea,” according to Yonhap, the government-affiliated news organization. “The show of overwhelming force involved the dropping of eight Mark 84 or MK84 multipurpose bombs by four F15K fighter jets at a shooting range near the inter-Korean border in Taebaek.”

Japan reacts. Hours after the North Korean launch, Japanese officials took reporters on a tour of some of Japan’s Patriot missile batteries. Tokyo is practicing deploying the system quickly to various U.S. bases in preparation for more serious challenges from Pyongyang in the future.  

For an idea of how remarkable the flight was, consider that this was only the third North Korean missile flight over Japan in the past two decades the NYT reports. The Tokyo government spoke of the missile in unusually dire terms. “North Korea’s reckless action of launching a missile that passed over Japan is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat,” said Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

What’s flying. The test appears to have been a new intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile, which flew as U.S. and South Korean forces conduct annual military drills on the peninsula which the North considers a threat. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has ordered the launch of 18 missiles this year alone, compared with the 16 missiles his father, Kim Jong Il, fired during 17 years in power.

Announce a plan, then write it. It has been over a week since president Donald Trump told the nation that he has a new strategy for victory in Afghanistan. And now the Pentagon is scrambling to come up with one.

Asked Monday when details of the new plan will be revealed, Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning told reporters “we’re not there yet,” and that Defense Secretary James Mattis had directed Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford “to put together a plan to achieve the strategic goals of the president’s strategy.”

Got that? Once Dunford makes those recommendations, Mattis “will determine how to move forward and how many additional troops we will need to send,” Manning added. It has been widely reported that somewhere around 4,000 more troops will eventually be sent to Afghanistan to train and advise the Afghan armed forces, and some will take a more active role in trying to roll back the gains the Taliban and the 20-odd other terrorist groups operating in the country have made.

Tillerson ditching special envoys. Amid cuts at all levels of the State Department, with top officials resigning in droves and morale dropping through the floor, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is moving to eliminate special envoy positions at State, a move that is sure to raise new complaints over his management style.

In a letter to Sen Bob Corker obtained by CNN, Tillerson said he would end or transfer as many as three dozen special envoy positions. “I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus,” Tillerson wrote Corker, “and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.” Special envoys for Syria, Sudan and South Sudan, and the Arctic will be eliminated.

Kurds pushing for independence, more U.S. weaponry.  A U.S. Defense Department fund that has helped pay the salaries of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq is due to run dry in September, worsening a financial crunch as the government in Erbil struggles with billions of dollars in debt, FP’s Paul McLeary reports:

“The government in Erbil is also waiting to hear about the status of a nearly $300 million aid package the Pentagon pledged in April, which would provide equipment for two full Peshmerga infantry brigades and two artillery battalions…But approval in Washington might only be the first hurdle. Kurdish officials have long complained that Baghdad has slow rolled weapons shipments and military support from western countries in an effort, they maintain, to ensure the Peshmerga doesn’t emerge as a major rival to the Iraqi security forces.”

Shut out. Former U.S.ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton — a major hawk when it comes to dealing with Iran — has been shut out of the White House under the new leadership of chief of staff John Kelly. FP’s Dan De Luce writes that several sources confirm Bolton’s regular meetings with Trump are a thing of the past, and he has been unable to deliver a plan he devised to get Washington out of the deal it signed with Tehran to halt that country’s nuclear program.

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

Not so silent partner. President Trump’s former business partner Felix Sater wrote an email in 2015 pledging that investing in a real estate deal in Moscow would help elect Trump. “Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this,” Sater wrote to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, promising to get funding for a Moscow Trump Tower from a Russian bank sanctioned by the United States. Sater, however, never delivered the funding and appears to have exaggerated his connections in Russian politics.

Kim Jong Trois. South Korean intelligence sources say North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has engaged in another act of proliferation, siring a third child some time in February with wife Ri Sol-ju. It’s unclear what the baby’s name or gender is but don’t hold your breath for an invitation to a gender reveal party.

Kiss and make up. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar says the terrorist group has restored its relationship with Iran after breaking with Tehran over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the outset of the Syrian Civil War. Sinwar says Iran is now Hamas’s largest backer financially and militarily.”

Resolution. After a tense standoff over the disputed border between China and Bhutan, India and China are pulling their troops back for a cool-off period following negotiations. The agreement doesn’t appear to have solved the long-term issue of China, India, and Bhutan’s delineation of their borders and China says its forces will continue to carry out patrols along the border.

Finland. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in town on Monday for a visit with President Trump, raising the issue of Russia and its tense relations with neighbors in the region. Speaking about the Baltics, where Russian military aircraft have come uncomfortably close to neighboring countries’ ships and planes, Trump said “We are very, very protective. We have great friends there, great relationships there.”

Manufacturing jobs. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of building a missile factory in Syria shortly before his meeting with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. Netanyahu didn’t indicate the location of the facility or the kinds of missiles it produces but the allegation follows satellite imagery released by an Israeli satellite firm alleging that a facility in Wadi Jahannam is a missile factory modeled after a similar facility in Iran.   

Raqqa timetable. One of the leaders of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces says clearing the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa could take another two months. Nowruz Ahmed said she estimates that there are 700-1,000 Islamic State fighters left inside the city amidst as many as 10,000 civilians.

Tal Afar. The fight to liberate Tal Afar and its surrounding areas isn’t quite finished. Reuters reports that Iraqi forces chased a remnant of Islamic State fighters to the nearby village of al-’Ayadiya, which has been putting up fierce resistance as the fighters try to flee into Syria.

Yemen. Saudi Arabia blamed a “technical mistake” for an airstrike which killed 14 civilians in the neighborhood of Fag Attan.

The fallen. The Navy has recovered the remains of all 10 sailors missing in the collision aboard the USS John S. McCain.

Sudan. In Sudan, the end of American sanctions could be in sight as the Trump administration reviews longstanding U.S. sanctions policy. The review is due out in October, but in the meantime Sudan is getting some warm feelers from the administration, including the visit of U.S. Agency for International Development chief Mark Green.

Waves. By now you’ve probably heard about the mysterious sonic weapon that injured a number of American and Canadian diplomats but it’s not the first time State Department employees have been targeted with an invisible weapon. The folks at Diplopundit helpfully dug through oral history interviews with former American diplomats in Moscow to recount a similar incident in the 1970s when the Soviets began bombarding the U.S. embassy in Moscow with microwaves.

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

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