The Cable

SitRep: Trump Heading to the DMZ; General Calls North Korea War ‘Horrific’

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Trump to the DMZ? President Donald Trump may visit the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea when he visits Seoul next month, South Korean media reports. An anonymous South Korean military official tells Yonhap that Trump is expected to send message to North Korea, either verbally or ...

South Korean soldiers stand guard in the DMZ separating North and South Korea. ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images
South Korean soldiers stand guard in the DMZ separating North and South Korea. ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Trump to the DMZ? President Donald Trump may visit the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea when he visits Seoul next month, South Korean media reports. An anonymous South Korean military official tells Yonhap that Trump is expected to send message to North Korea, either verbally or “kinetically,” during his trip. “Trump will likely do something like that and his aides are making the relevant preparations,” added the official.

Washington’s North Korea policy of the day. In Washington, the contradictory messages being sent by the president and his cabinet over North Korea policy are dizzying. FP’s Robbie Gramer and Paul McLeary write that it can be best summed up as: “The United States can’t rule out military options for North Korea. There’s no military solution to North Korea. Diplomacy is our best bet with North Korea. Don’t waste time with diplomacy.”

Latest from Pentagon brass. U.S. military leaders, in particular, continue to insist that any engagement with the North Koreans must be led by the country’s diplomats. The American effort is “diplomatically led,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told an annual U.S. Army conference in Washington on Monday. “What does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say, so there’s one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is you’ve got to be ready…if needed,” he added.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Monday that “a full-blown war on the Korean Peninsula will be horrific by any stretch of the imagination,”. But equally horrific, he said, would be an attack on the United States. “It would be horrible, there’s no question about it, but so would an intercontinental ballistic missile striking Los Angeles or New York City. That would be equally horrible.”

Just going to leave this here. For those keeping score at home, the United Nations atomic agency chief on Monday affirmed Iran is sticking to the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump is working to dismantle. “I can state that the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the (nuclear agreement) are being implemented,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said in prepared remarks during a conference in Rome.

Trump says he’s smarter than Tillerson. Alternate headline we suggest: “We’re all dumber now.” In an interview with Forbes magazine, President Trump takes on multiple stories that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “fucking moron.” Trump, unsurprisingly, hits back: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

Airstrikes hit new high in Afghanistan. American warplanes dropped more bombs in Afghanistan in September than at any point since 2012, pounding the Taliban and the Islamic State with 751 munitions — a 50 percent jump from August.

The U.S. Air Force command in the Middle East said in a statement on Monday that the increase “can be attributed to the president’s strategy to more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people.” The Air Force said that the bombing campaign has been aided by the recent addition of six F-16s to Bagram Air Base, and more B-52s dedicated to Afghanistan.

The long war and its toll. “After 30 years of medical work during some of Afghanistan’s bloodiest times, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday that it was drastically reducing its presence in the country after a series of attacks on its staff.” The group said violence was simply too high to continue to operate in some provinces.

AUSA roundup. Monday kicked off the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, the Army’s biggest and most important meet-and-greet of the year where the service tells its story, tries to lay out its future, and checks out some of the defense industry’s newest toys. Some highlights from Day One:

Kremlin still No. 1. Russia is the most pressing near-term threat to the United States, while China remains a more long-term threat, Army intel chief Brig. Gen. Kevin Wulfhorst said.

“These great power competitors have invested heavily in anti-access area denial capabilities to compensate for their own perceived military weaknesses against the United States,” Wulfhorst said.

Army modernization. The Army is revamping how it buys equipment, and is undergoing the largest internal restructuring in 40 years. To get after it, the service is setting up a new command to ensure its modernization programs get the attention, thought and care needed to get new gear in the hands of soldiers, faster.

Drone killer. The Army is testing a new vehicle-mounted weapon that can shoot down drones, and is rushing to deploy them overseas by next year. Other vehicles can be mounted with machine guns or Hellfire missiles to take down drones or low-flying aircraft.

Missile protection. The service’s missile defense chief is “fully confident” that his gear can shoot down any missile fired at the United States or its allies.

Africa focus. Just days after four U.S. Army soldiers were killed by what are thought to be Islamic State fighters while on a training mission in Niger, the acting head of U.S. Army Africa says that “approximately 80 percent of our theater security cooperation activities are going to be focused in Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon area for next year.”

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

Toxic command. One of the Navy’s most important ships for ballistic missile defense in the Pacific suffered plunging morale under its former captain, with sailors entertaining suicidal thoughts and suffering from exhaustion under a seemingly toxic command. Navy Times obtained command climate reports from the USS Shiloh under Capt. Adam M. Aycock, described as “shocking,” “unforgivable,” and a “nightmare” by retired Navy commanders who reviewed them.

Fake news targets vets. A new study from Oxford University found that Russia used fake news websites to create “an entire ecosystem of junk news about national security issues that is deliberately crafted for U.S. veterans and active military personnel.” The study charted the influence of three websites linked to Russia, tracing the flow of conspiracy theories peddled by the sites to veterans and active duty personnel on Twitter and Facebook, finding “significant and persistent interactions” with Russia-linked accounts.

Russian ads. Google says it that, like Facebook and Twitter, it’s discovered that Russian-linked operatives used its social media platforms to spread propaganda targeted at the 2016 presidential election. A source tells Reuters that Russian ad buyers purchased under $100,000 worth of political ads to run on YouTube, Gmail, and Google’s flagship search engine. Meanwhile, Microsoft announced that it’s currently investigating whether Russia used ads on its Bing search engine to target American voters during the campaign.

Tit-for-tat. Russia’s Justice Ministry has warned the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Russian-language news radio stations that “your organization’s activity may be restricted” as the Russian government considers it a foreign agent. The move follows threats from the Russian Foreign Ministry to retaliate against American media with “similar measures” after complaints that the U.S. Justice Department asked Russian government funded RT news channel to register as a foreign agent.

Syria. Israel briefly considered striking crematoria used to burn the bodies of Assad regime prisoner’s killed at Saydnaya military prison, with one anonymous participant in the discussions telling Israeli news media some participants argued that “A country that lost millions of its people to crematoria cannot stand by when it happens to another people a few dozens of kilometers from our border.”

Idlib. Turkey is preparing to establish a “de-escalation zone” in Syria’s Idlib Province by sending a military reconnaissance teams into the province. Turkey has sought to undermine the power of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, working with Free Syrian Army units to chip away at HTS’s control of the province.

Turkey. Turkey says it’d be nice if the U.S. restored nonimmigrant visa services to Turkish citizens at its consulate after the U.S. cut back on consular activity following the arrest of a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate. But there doesn’t seem to be an end to the feud in sight, especially given that a second Turkish employee of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the country has been “invited” to the Turkish prosecutor’s office and had his wife and child briefly detained.

Rule 34. The Islamic State’s Yemen affiliate is into some pretty weird stuff under the guise of training.

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