The Cable

SitRep: The North Korea Squeeze Is On

U.S. strikes in Somalia and Pakistan keep the Long War grinding on

An overview of the second day of the Workers' Party of Korea. (AFP/Getty Images)
An overview of the second day of the Workers' Party of Korea. (AFP/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

North Korea sanctions. The United States has slapped a new round of sanctions on North Korea, singling out a pair of North Korean officials who are considered key to their country’s development of ballistic missiles.

Kim Jong Sik, a long-time rocket scientist, and Ri Pyong Chol, a former senior air force commander, both of whom appear to be close with leader Kim Jong Un, were named, meaning that any assets the two hold in the United States can be seized and banks are banned from transactions with them involving U.S. dollars.

Bringing back the carrier. Both Japan and South Korea are considering converting some of their helicopter carrying ships into a full-fledged aircraft carriers capable of launching stealth F-35 jets. The move would give Japan’s military its first aircraft carrier since World War II, and be a first for South Korea.

Here to stay. Russia’s parliament has voted to extend the country’s lease on the naval base in Latakia, Syria for a half century.

Another snag for Syria talks. Up to 40 Syrian rebel groups have signed on to a boycott of Russian-led talks next month to end the Syrian civil war, writing that they see the negotiations as an attempt to undercut the U.N. peace process in Geneva and will not give up on their demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down as part of any ultimate settlement.  

The amazing vanishing Islamic State. The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has radically revised its estimate for how many fighters are active in the two countries, claiming that there are only around 1,000 left. Just last week, the estimate was 3,000 ISIS fighters.

Elsewhere in the Long War…The U.S. Africa Command said Wednesday it killed 13 members of the al-Shabab extremist group with a new airstrike in southern Somalia. The strike, carried out Sunday morning, hit a group of fighters about 30 miles northwest of Kismayo — where the U.S. operates a small drone base. The United States has carried out 34 drone strikes in Somalia this year after the Trump administration gave military leaders more freedom to conduct strikes without the White House’s sign off.

Strike in Pakistan. And the drone war in Pakistan is still going strong, with what was reportedly an American drone killing a top member of the Taliban in Pakistani territory on Tuesday. The strike is said to have killed a Haqqani Network commander named Jamiuddin.

Cities suing Pentagon. Three U.S. cities filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Department of Defense, arguing that many service members who are disqualified from gun ownership weren’t reported to the national background check system. New York City, San Francisco and Philadelphia said the Pentagon’s system failed to prevent the massacre of 26 people inside a Texas church last month.

“This failure on behalf of the Department of Defense has led to the loss of innocent lives by putting guns in the hands of criminals and those who wish to cause immeasurable harm,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “New York City is joining Philadelphia and San Francisco to stand up to the Department of Defense and demand they comply with the law and repair their drastically flawed system.”

Good times. From Reuters: “The Myanmar military, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, has been invited back as an observer in a major multinational military exercise next year led by the United States and Thailand.”     

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

Another shoe to drop. We might soon learn more about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s alleged misdeeds as experts predict Special Counsel Robert Mueller will soon file a superseding indictment of Manafort in addition to the existing indictment accusing him of laundering proceeds from working for Russian-connected Ukrainian oligarchs.

New Year’s fireworks. North Korea may be planning to end 2017 with a bang, launching another satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-5, into orbit sometime in the near future, South Korean officials tell JoongAng Ilbo.

Sanctions busting. U.N. sanctions investigators are reviewing American spy satellite imagery purporting to show North Korea trying to skirt international sanctions by illegally trading oil with Chinese ships while at sea.

Farwell, Instagram. Russia in incensed that Facebook, the owner of the Instagram photo sharing app, has banned the selfie-loving Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov from its platform following U.S. sanctions against him. Now Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecoms oversight agency, is demanding that Facebook answer questions about why it booted Kadyrov from his most beloved app.

Weird hobby, dude. How hard is it to design a nuclear weapon? Not as hard as you think. John Coster-Mullen, a 71-year-old truck driver, has spent a quarter century’s worth of spare time recreating the design of the atomic bombs used on Japan in great detail based on open sources.

 

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