De-escalation on the Korean peninsula. More than 40 hours of negotiations led on Monday to a breakthrough between North and South Korea that allows both parties to save face and step back from the brink of war, AP reports.
The concessions: Pyongyang expressed “regret” (rather than any claim of responsibility or apology, as Seoul was seeking) over two South Korean soldiers injured in recent land mine blasts near the DMZ. North Korea “also promised not to stage any more provocations and said it would start talks to allow the resumption of reunions between relatives who were separated when the division of the Korean Peninsula was cemented at the end of the Korean War,” the Washington Post reports.
“South Korea, for its part, halted anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts over loudspeakers on the border, which will let the authoritarian North trumpet to its people a propaganda win over its bitter rival,” reports AP.
The whole flare-up and de-escalation illustrates that “little has changed in the Pyongyang playbook of provocations,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The cycle works like this: “a swift attack, followed by fears of an escalation of conflict. A resolution is then found through dialogue, with little cost to North Korea for its aggression.”
So what next? The two sides agreed to meet again at an undisclosed date in one of the two nation’s capitals, although “the Koreas have a history of failing to follow through on their promises and allowing simmering animosity to interrupt diplomacy,” AP adds.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force announced it’s sending three B-2 stealth bombers to Guam as part of a planned rotation to reinforce South Korea’s defenses, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Monday. Though for what it’s worth, “three B-2 bombers and approximately 225 Airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, have already deployed to Guam on Aug. 7” for training in the Asia-Pacific region, The Aviationist reported yesterday.
Extensive, coordinated, comprehensive—that’s how a new counter-Islamic State air campaign between the Turkish and U.S. military is being described after Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with reporters in Ankara this morning. The agreement comes less than a week after U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Turkey needs to join the coalition’s air tasking order over Iraq and Syria, and do more to seal a porous border that allows foreign fighters to flow onto the Syrian battlefield.
What’s involved here? A joint “plan to provide air cover for what Washington judges to be moderate Syrian rebels as part of the operations, which aim to flush Islamic State from a rectangle of border territory roughly 80 km (50 miles) long,” Reuters reports. But none of this means Turkey will cease its independent air campaign against Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, militants in northern Iraq or southeastern Turkey.
Now comes this possible WTF moment in U.S.-Turkey relations: “The kidnapping of a group of U.S.-trained moderate Syrians moments after they entered Syria last month to confront the Islamic State was orchestrated by Turkish intelligence,” multiple rebels and anonymous Turkish officials told McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero in Turkey. “One official from southern Turkey said the arrival plans for the graduates of the so-called train-and-equip program were leaked to [al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front] in hopes the rapid disintegration of the program would push the Americans into expanding the training and arming of rebel groups focused on toppling the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.”
Meantime, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday announced snap elections—possibly as early as November 1—after a June vote essentially halted his plans to expand power in his politically fragile country.
In case you missed it—because you’ll never see it again—ISIS destroyed the nearly 2,000-year-old temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria, a move UNESCO called a war crime. BBC has a few photos of the temple that is now reportedly just “rocks on the ground, nothing more,” over here.
And oh by the way, the U.S. military’s war against ISIS “is an ongoing violation of the Constitution, one of the most severe of the 21st century,” Garrett Epps, law professor at the University of Baltimore, writes in Defense One. “Congress is abdicating an important role” in a war that is “already too wide to be proceed any further without a serious discussion of the aims and dangers of the effort,” Epps writes. “There are institutional reasons why the two branches are content to make war-and-peace decisions in silence. But we the people don’t have to accept that. We can insist that Congress take this matter up, and we can also insist that they treat this life-and-death issue as if they were grown-ups.” Read his argument in full, here.
Go figure. Turns out wars in the Middle East have contributed to an impressive decline—in some cases 50 percent—in the region’s air pollution since 2008. Reuters has that one.
How to keep consumer drones away from airports and out of the way of firefighters? Sen. Chuck Schumer thinks he has the answer: require their manufacturers to build in no-fly zones. But even before the amendment comes to a vote, hackers show how to defeat such geofences. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has the story.
From Defense One
Where the 2016 candidates stand on the Iran deal. National Journal’s Nora Kelly tallies up the score —18 opposed, four in favor — and rounds up each candidates’ quotes about the agreement. “As Hill watchers tally votes, they’d also do well to check out what the 2016 field has to say about the deal—after all, they do include five sitting senators.” That, here.
The Pentagon buys cyber defenses at the same plodding pace it buys major weapons, and that’s simply too slow, argues Maj. Daniel E. Schoeni, an Air Force JAG lawyer with a degree in procurement law. The Defense Department needs to become more agile, and that’s going to take cultural change. Read his piece, here.
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The U.S. Navy wants to expand its maritime protocol agreement with China to include Beijing’s coast guard vessels, which would underline “the role the coast guard plays in executing China’s foreign policy,” Bloomberg reports.
Why? “Many of the encounters at sea that my naval ships have are as frequent with the Chinese coast guard—and other coast guards—as it is with the Chinese navy ships,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
What’s going on in Japan? Investigators are looking into a series of explosions at a U.S. Army depot about 25 miles south of Tokyo Monday morning that fortunately injured no one, but left lots of questions for concerned residents living nearby. The Pentagon said Monday an inquiry into the incident has so far revealed no signs of sabotage or terrorism, though folks are understandably wary after the enormous explosion in China two weeks ago claimed nearly a hundred lives and turned a spotlight on little-known chemical storage facilities near residential areas.
In Yemen, the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels escalated on Monday as Riyadh doubled its daily airstrike count to help ground forces push north from the central province of Marib, AP reported. “Marib’s pro-government forces also received major reinforcements, including hundreds of Saudi-trained troops, ambulances and armored personnel carriers manned by Saudi and Emirati soldiers.”
And the coalition could be running out of volunteers willing to fight to take Yemen back from rebels, since, as one Yemen official said, “Getting equipment (from coalition countries) is easy. Getting men to operate them is hard.” More here.
And in Afghanistan, nearly a dozen people were killed—including several children—around midnight after a series of explosions struck a gas storage facility on the fringes of the relatively peaceful western city of Herat. “It was not immediately clear whether the blasts were an accident or caused by a militant attack,” AFP reports. “Domestic gas cylinder explosions are an almost daily occurrence around the country, where safety standards are poor and fatal accidents not uncommon.”
The U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command in Quantico, Va., is reopening an inquiry into the alleged killing of at least 17 civilians by a U.S. Special Forces team in Wardak province during 2012 and 2013, The New York Times’ Rod Nordland reports from Kabul.
Raptors heading to Europe. The U.S. Air Force will soon send stealthy F-22 fighter jets to the continent to train with NATO allies. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James “made clear that F-22’s ‘inaugural’ visit to Europe was designed to send a message to Russia, citing a comment by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter that the U.S. approach to Russia ‘needs to be strong, and it needs to be balanced.’” James spoke at a Pentagon press conference with service chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh. Both refused to say where the U.S. would base the Raptors, which visited England in 2008 and 2010 for airshow performances. That story, here.
Should one service be in charge of the military’s drones? Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber explores the idea that touched off one of the 2000s’ biggest intraservice fights. The Air Force lost its bid to become the “executive agent” for medium and large drones, but amid new Pentagon plans to expand its drone presence, some say the Air Force should try again. “There needs to be someone with oversight that is actually pulling together and assuring the interdependency of the systems that each of the individual services are developing,” said David Deptula, a retired lieutenant general who oversaw the Air Force’s drone and intelligence operations.
No thanks, says Welsh. “I don’t think the debate would be helpful or particularly useful right now,” the chief said. “The debate was contentious when we had it…It was divisive and it was not helpful in my view.” Read the whole story, here.
What decoration for train hero? The Air Force will nominate Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone for its “highest non-combat award for his actions to subdue a gunman aboard an Amsterdam-to-Paris train,” Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol reports. “Because Stone’s bravery is not considered a combat action, he is not eligible for other U.S. military valor awards, such as the Bronze Star with “V” device and Silver Star, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at Monday’s briefing.” More here.
Oops. Why did the Air Force erroneously report the wrong cost of its secretive new bomber to Congress? Human error, James said. More from Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, here.
Meantime in the waters off South America, the U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet is testing its Scan Eagle and Puma drone—typically used for surveillance in ground conflicts—aboard its growing fleet of Joint High Speed Vessels. “What we were looking for these UAVs to do is to help do especially the monitoring portion of [the South American counter-drug trafficking] mission set, to help with [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], to find and detect and then monitor the boats that are around the area,” said Lt. Mark Bote, the experiment lead for the Joint High Speed Vessel 2015 Fleet Experimentation (FLEX). U.S. Naval Institute reports.
Lastly today, those wearing the uniform and whose email addresses may have been in the AshleyMadison.com data dump can rest easy: “the mere presence of an email address isn’t enough to investigate someone for adultery—which the military considers a crime—and there are no plans to launch a military-wide manhunt for cheating spouses,” the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reports.