Let’s start in East Asia. A North Korean ballistic missile blew up shortly after launch on Saturday, one day after the U.S. secretary of state led a UN meeting on the rogue regime. The launch drew quick condemnation from Japan and South Korea, while President Trump tried to paint it as a slap at China. CNN, here. Unbowed, Pyongyang on Monday vowed to bolster its nuclear force “to the maximum.” Reuters, here.
Meanwhile, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster walked back, somewhat, Trump’s Thursday suggestion that Seoul should pay more for the THAAD missile-defense system. “What I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation, that the deal is in place,” McMaster told Fox News on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the president has been making reassurance calls to other regional leaders — including Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, whom he invited for a White House visit. “Administration officials said the call to Mr. Duterte was one of several to Southeast Asian leaders that the White House arranged after picking up signs that the leaders felt neglected because of Mr. Trump’s intense focus on China, Japan and tensions over North Korea. On Sunday, Mr. Trump spoke to the prime ministers of Singapore and Thailand; both got White House invitations,” the New York Times reports.
But Duterte? Whose brutal and widely condemned anti-drug campaign is leaving a trail of bodies across the archipelago? “The administration is bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.”
Meanwhile, new CIA chief Mike Pompeo is in Seoul today talking with his own counterparts in South Korean intelligence. AP, here.
And in a first, a Japanese warship — that is, Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel — is protecting a U.S. Navy supply ship on a trip around Japan. Asahi Shimbun has the details, here.
From Defense One
Letting Bahrain Buy F-16s Won’t Make It a More Stable Ally // Sam Jones: The Trump administration discarded human-rights criteria in approving the sale — and that’s not going to help things.
Welcome to this 1st of May edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1898: Adm. Dewey destroys a Spanish squadron in the Battle of Manila Bay. Got tips? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Erdogan is angry. Video surfaced this weekend showing U.S. troops patrolling the Syrian-Turkish border with Syrian YPG fighters. Within hours, Turkish President Erdogan lashed out at the U.S.-YPG alliance, warning his military’s jets may strike the Kurds in Iraq and Syria again, like Ankara did more than a week ago in northeast Syria and northern Iraq. Kurdish officials call the U.S. patrols a “buffer” protecting Syrian Kurds from Turkey, ABC News reports.
Responded Erdogan: “We will be forced to continue (our offensives). We won’t provide a date and time for when we’ll come. But they will know that the Turkish military can come.”
What could be additionally aggravating for Erdogan: The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have taken back more turf from ISIS around Raqqa this weekend—pushing “Islamic State fighters out of the old quarters of Tabqa, a strategically vital town controlling Syria’s largest dam, [and] hemming the militants into the remaining modern district along the shore,” Reuters reports. “On Monday the SDF said in an online statement it had taken the last three neighborhoods of the old city and an adjoining industrial district. SDF forces were now fighting Islamic State in the three modern quarters of the town which lie along the Tabqa reservoir, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said.”
And in case you’re curious: “Islamic State still control the [Tabqa] dam,” while the SDF is believed to control nearly four-fifths of Tabqa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More here.
In Iraq, officials are predicting ISIS will be flushed out of Mosul this month—and as early as “three weeks,” according to Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi.
Iraqi commanders said on Sunday they believe there are only 200 to 300 ISIS fighters remaining in the city, out of some 6,000 believed to have been present when the offensive began in mid-October.
al-Baghdadi watch: “Islamic State announced attacks on Sunday the Shi’ite paramilitary northwest of Mosul and on an Iraqi army position in Akashat, near the Syrian border, an area where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be hiding, according to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi army said its ground and air forces pushed back the attack, killing eight militants,” Reuters reports.
Also in Mosul this weekend: A 25-year-old paratrooper LT from Georgia was killed fighting ISIS, the Defense Department announced Saturday. “First Lt. Weston Lee, 25, died from wounds he sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated during a patrol outside Mosul,” Army Times reported Sunday. “Lee, of Bluffton, Georgia, was an infantry officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.” This was Lee’s first deployment. RIP, sir.
And we have the names of the two Army Rangers who died last week fighting ISIS in Afghanistan: Sgt. Joshua ‘Josh’ Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, Illinois; and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio. The two may have died from friendly fire; the Pentagon says it’s investigating.
That harrowing situation, via an unusually descriptive press release from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan: “About 50 U.S. Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos were inserted by helicopter into the Mohmand Valley about 10:30 p.m. local time April 26…The location is near where the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb was dropped earlier this month…The two Rangers were mortally wounded at the start of an intense, three-hour firefight, [Pentagon spox Capt. Jeff Davis] said.”
The Rangers were targeting ISIS-in-Afghanistan’s leader, Abdul Hasib, “who is believed to have been killed in the raid,” along with nearly three-dozen other ISIS fighters, Davis said. “Those at the scene report close-quarters fighting and enemy fire coming at them from 360 degrees,” according to Davis. More here.
Related reading (1): SecDef Mattis has instructed the Pentagon to stop wasting time—literally he wants the wait times shorter—for approving combat valor awards, Military Times reports.
Two Taliban commanders were killed in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on Saturday, The Long War Journal reported. That strike occurred “in the village of Lawra Mandi in the Dattak Khel area of North Waziristan,” which LWJ writes “is a nexus of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity.”
Panning out from Dattak Khel, “Yesterday’s strike is just the second reported in Pakistan this year, and the second since the US killed Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an attack in Baluchistan province in May 2016. The US is thought to have launched another operation in Pakistan on March 2, when drones killed two jihadists as they rode a motorcycle in the tribal agency of Kurram.”
In other U.S. strike news, a suspected drone strike in Yemen has reportedly killed four alleged members of al-Qaeda, according to Qatar news on Sunday.
Lastly today: When neighbors make you smile. A crowd of presumably mostly Canadians won over a few hearts before last night’s Edmonton Oilers v. Anaheim Ducks playoff game. The situation: an alleged mic failure just before “The Star-Spangled Banner.” So instead of waiting around for a fix, with cameras broadcasting the events live, Canadian singer Brett Kissel asked the crowd to chime in and the result was pretty great—as SBnation.com preserved in a nearly two-minute clip you can find, here.