The Cable

SitRep: Another Kabul Attack, Details about North Korea’s Missile Technology

Yemen continues to burn, American ISIS pundit makes debut

An Afghan man runs away in the aftermath of the third blast at a Shiite cultural centre in Kabul on Dec. 28. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)
An Afghan man runs away in the aftermath of the third blast at a Shiite cultural centre in Kabul on Dec. 28. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Afghanistan bombing. At least 40 people were killed and 80 others injured in Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday when a suicide bomber hit the offices of a Shia cultural organization. The latest attack on the country’s capital underscores the fragile security situation there, 16 years after the United States toppled the Taliban. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack.

Where did North Korea get its new missile technology? Looks like in the early years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Russian missile designers set out to sell their plans to the highest bidder — and Pyongyang likely won, the Washington Post reports.

Voices carry. In the wake of North Korean missile tests in 2017, the Trump administration plans to be “more quiet” and “more discreet” about speaking publicly on U.S. military exercises with the Republic of Korea and Japan, CNN reports. “The decision not to talk about exercises is intended to give US diplomats more leeway in ongoing sensitive talks in the region in hopes of defusing the crisis, the senior official said.”

North Korean leakage. You’ll be shocked to learn that North Korea may have been less than cautious in zoning its nuclear test site, with potential evidence of radiological contamination from the site emerging in the bodies of four defectors who lived near the site at Punggye-ri. The four defectors, who lived near the site after the most recent nuclear test there in January, showed evidence of changes to their chromosomes which could indicate leakage from the test site or more prosaic causes like heavy smoking.

More ISIS. The western half of Mosul, the Iraqi city liberated from the Islamic State’s grip this fall, is in ruins, and funding to help begin reconstruction is lagging, residents and aid groups say. The AP gives us an idea of the scale of the work ahead:

“It will take years to haul out the rubble that weighs down Mosul’s Old City. More than 3,000 tons cover every acre, and much of the shattered concrete and twisted metal that once made up people’s homes and shops is laced with explosives and unexploded ordnance.”

Yemen burning. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has killed 109 civilians in air strikes in the past 10 days, the top U.N. official in the country said Thursday.

In direct language, U.N. resident coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said that the attacks “prove the complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led Coalition, continue to show in this absurd war that has only resulted in the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of its people, who are being punished as part of a futile military campaign by both sides.”

Iran deal. Next month, president Trump will again be faced with a deadline on whether to place additional sanctions on Iran over its missile program. Politico points out that plenty are concerned over what might happen. “Senior lawmakers and some of Trump’s top national security officials are trying to preserve the agreement. But the deal’s backers fear Trump has grown more willing to reject the counsel of his foreign policy team, as he did with his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

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

Difficult history. South Korea and Japan are at odds once again over Japanese abuses of South Korean women during World War II, with officials in Seoul now saying a 2015 compensation agreement with Japan is insufficient and in need of change. Japan, which proclaimed the deal “final and irreversible,” has said any changes would be “unacceptable.”

How do you solve a problem like Donbas? NATO still can’t decide whether diplomacy or coercion is the right approach to resolve Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine, three years since the war began. The Wall Street Journal reports that NATO allies like Germany are inclined to resume talks with Moscow as Russian diplomats call for a restart of expert and working group meetings at the NATO-Russia Council but the U.S. remains skeptical.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has conducted the largest prisoner swap in the history of Kiev’s war against separatists, exchanging 306 rebel prisoners for 74 loyalists.

Not so open skies. Another U.S.-Russia treaty is straining under the weight of recent tensions, as Russia seeks to limit the number of airfields the U.S. can use for overflights as part of the Open Skies Treaty. The treaty allows both countries to carry out periodic surveillance overflights of each other’s territory but Russia says its limiting the U.S. ability to overfly its enclave in Kaliningrad after the U.S. put limits on Russia’s flights over U.S. missile defense locations in Alaska.

Cybersecurity beef. Germany and China have fallen into a minor diplomatic spat over cybersecurity following comments from Germany’s ambassador to China accusing Beijing of failing to follow up on calls for joint cybersecurity talks between the two countries. China’s foreign ministry lashed out at the comments, calling them “unprofessional and irresponsible.”

Talking points. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is sticking to his guns, saying Syrian President Bashar al Assad needs to step down as part of any final deal to end the Syrian civil war despite months of a more accommodating attitude towards the Syrian leader.  

The Assad regime and Iranian-backed militias are inching even closer to the Golan Heights and Israel’s red line. Rebels in the triborder region between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel say they’re in talks with the Assad regime to evacuate the area and leave for Idlib, putting further pressure on Israel to

ISIS’s American pundit. The Islamic State has released a new video featuring a purported American fighter for the group urging viewers to exploit America’s lax gun laws to carry out active shooter attacks inside the United States.


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