North Korea tests the White House; Turkey reaches ‘heart’ of ISIS-held Syrian city; Flynn under fire; SOCOM prepares to take over WMD mission; and just a bit more...
North Korea’s missile test draws muted White House response. North Korean media said the missile, which was launched along a high arc on Sunday, was a “Pukguksong-2, a new type of strategic weapon capable of carrying a nuclear warhead,” Reuters reports. AP adds that “North Korea said the missile made a high-altitude flight because of security worries in neighboring countries.”
About the launch: “The missile flew 310 miles before dropping harmlessly into the Sea of Japan, according to the South Korean military, which identified it as an intermediate-range Musudan. [It] poses a potential threat to American allies in Japan and South Korea and American forces in the Pacific, but could not strike the United States,” the New York Times reports.
And that is a relevant distinction, since the president promised in early January to not allow the country to develop a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S. So far, Trump’s reaction has been more muted than most have come to expect from the outspoken president. “If North Korea was testing the new president, as many analysts believe, then Mr. Trump seemed intent on showing that he would not be baited into a confrontation every time an American adversary tried to provoke him. At least not right away,” the Times reported.
The test’s high arc means the missile’s actual range remains unclear, AP reports. “Some analysts say its maximum range could be up to 3,000 kilometers (1,870 miles), while others put it at 1,200 kilometers (750 miles). Either way, the missile could target South Korea and Japan, where about 80,000 U.S. troops are stationed.”
Also: if the missile used solid fuel, as Pyongyang claims, “North Korea’s military could drive the new missiles anywhere and fire them at will from mobile launchers.”
Check out a nifty map of North Korean missiles and their believed ranges, via AFP, here.
News of the test reached Trump during dinner with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe in the main dining hall at his Florida resort Mar-A-Lago. The president chose to stay in the crowded area, and “Trump and Abe's evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners,” CNN reported. “Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo.”
Ultimately, “White House officials on Sunday remained quiet about the test and their emerging strategy. Stephen Miller, the president’s senior adviser for policy, said Mr. Trump had sent a strong signal with his joint appearance with Mr. Abe,” NYTs writes.
“But we’re going to be sending another signal very soon, and that signal is when we begin a great rebuilding of the armed forces of the United States. President Trump is going to go to Congress and ask them to invest in our military so once again we will have unquestioned military strength beyond anything anybody can imagine,” Miller said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Trump’s slate of options is “not significantly better than it was for his predecessors,” the Times reports. “The United States and the United Nations have already imposed an array of wrenching sanctions and have largely isolated North Korea from much of the world.”
Adds Reuters: “More dramatic responses to North Korea's missile tests would be direct military action or negotiations. But neither appears to be on the table—the first because it would risk regional war, the latter because it would be seen as rewarding Pyongyang for bad behavior. And neither would offer certain success.” More here.
Washington and Seoul have called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council later today, AFP reports.
Turkey’s military offensive into Syria has finally reached the “heart” of ISIS-held al-Bab, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday, nearly three months after a concerted move on the city began. “Right now al-Bab, whether by us or by the Free Syrian Army, is now besieged on all four sides and our forces along with the Free Syrian Army have entered the center,” he said. However, AP reports, "the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, says Turkish troops have yet to enter the town’s center, with the fighting still concentrated on its outskirts."
Erdogan is anxious to show progress shortly after his military and its allied rebels linked up with Syrian troops to move on al-Bab—an alliance that was not without its violent flare-ups; last week, Syrian tanks on the outskirts of the city reportedly fired on Turkish troops.
ICYMI: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not support the idea of safe zones in his country. "It's not a realistic idea at all. This is where you can have natural safe zones, which is our country. They don't need safe zones at all. It's much more viable, much more practical and less costly to have stability than to create safe zones." He also said he welcomes U.S. troops fighting ISIS in Syria, but on two conditions: Washington must coordinate actions with Damascus, and respect the sovereignty of his government. Those pull-outs come from an interview posted Friday by Yahoo News.
Assad’s Russian pals are under fire for the brutal way that the city of Aleppo was retaken from rebels—allegedly killing civilians in the process, NYT writes off a new report from the Atlantic Council.
Rebels are still fighting each other in northwestern Syria, Reuters reports. The culprits: “Jund al-Aqsa and Tahrir al-Sham clashed around Kafr Zeita in the countryside north of Hama, and near Tamaniaa, Khan Sheikhoun and Tal Aaas in southern Idlib Province,” Reuters reports. “A statement released by Tahrir al-Sham said Jund al-Aqsa was responsible for the violence, accusing it of coordinating with Islamic State and of having attacked Tahrir al-Sham with suicide blasts and a car bomb.”
A bit of recent history about Tahrir al-Sham: It “was formed in January from a merger of Syria's former branch of al Qaeda, previously known as the Nusra Front and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, along with several other Islamist groups. Jund al-Aqsa and Fateh al-Sham fell out last year despite having previously aligned with each other, and insurgent sources and the Observatory say Jund al-Aqsa's ideology is closer to that of Islamic State group, al Qaeda's main jihadist rival. Both Tahrir al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa are also fighting against an alliance of another Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham, and rebel factions fighting under the FSA banner. Jihadist groups attacked the FSA for sending delegates to peace talks in Kazakhstan last month.” More here.
In Iraq, the Mosul offensive into the western half of the city is about to recommence after a pause, NPR reports this morning. You can hear that one from Morning Edition, here.
From Defense One
Will Trump Repeal Sanctions on Russia? A Conversation with an NSC Planner // Patrick Tucker: We asked Kevin Harrington, deputy assistant to the president for strategic planning, whether he could square the mixed signals coming from the White House.
SOCOM Will Soon Lead the Pentagon's Anti-WMD Efforts. Here's What It Still Needs. // Daniel M. Gerstein: America's special operators know how to catch bomb-makers, but need new expertise on other areas of the fight.
Michael Flynn's Disaster // David Frum: Trump's national security adviser's potentially false statements about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russian officials are a major problem.
Beyond Yemen, the Ghost of Anwar al-Awlaki Will Long Haunt US Forces // Haroro J. Ingram and Craig Whiteside: The enduring propaganda value of a martyr.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1945, Royal Air Force bombers set fire to Dresden, Germany, killing more than 20,000 people. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Defense Secretary James Mattis heads to Europe on Tuesday to talk about the ISIS war and more troops in Afghanistan, Military.com reported Friday in a brief preview. He heads to Brussels first, before dropping in on the Munich Security Conference this weekend.
Also in Europe: NATO’s BS deflectors are working overtime to counter Russian disinformation, Reuters reported this weekend. “The most recent disinformation occurred earlier this month when Russian news website life.ru published a fabricated voice recording of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with a Russian prankster pretending to be Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.” More here.
Flynn under fire. The “White House is reviewing whether to retain National Security Adviser Mike Flynn,” The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend after news broke Thursday that Flynn had reportedly discussed U.S. sanctions on Moscow with a Russian ambassador before President Trump took office, a possible violation of the Logan Act. Adds the Washington Post: “neither Trump nor his advisers have publicly defended Flynn or stated unequivocally that he has the president’s confidence.”
If the reports of sanctions talk—which come from unnamed U.S. intelligence officials—are true, it would suggest that Flynn “misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations,” NYTs reports.
The Times spoke with “more than two dozen current and former council staff members and others throughout the government” to paint an abysmal picture of a poorly-functioning White House National Security Council. Find that here.
The U.S. Navy is planning to challenge Beijing’s South China Sea claims, Navy Times reported Sunday. “The military's plans likely call for sailing within 12 nautical miles of China’s newly built islands in the Spratly and/or Paracel islands, a move that would amount to a new challenge to Chinese territorial claims there that has raised tensions between Washington and Beijing in the recent past,” NT’s David Larter wrote. “The freedom of navigation operations, also known as FONOPS, could be carried out by ships with the San Diego-based Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which is in the Pacific Ocean heading toward the South China Sea...The plans are heading up the chain of command for approval by President Donald Trump, and set the stage for a transnational guessing game about what the Trump administration wants its Asia policy to be.” More here.
The Navy is also “expanding its presence in the Red Sea, especially around the Bab el Mandeb strait at the southern entrance to the waterway,” Defense News reported Saturday. In addition to the recent arrival of the USS Cole, “Pentagon sources say two more destroyers are likely to be stationed in the Red Sea, patrolling opposite ends of the 1,400-mile long body of water. A US assault ship also is staying in the region, carrying attack aircraft and Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.” Read the rest, here.