Pyongyang threatens US aircraft; McMaster speaks up; Region braces as Kurds approve independence; Troops help in Puerto Rico; and just a bit more...
North Korea’s anti-aircraft threat. Pyongyang’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho “threatened on Monday to shoot down American warplanes even if they were not in the country’s airspace,” the New York Times reports, the latest development in the months-long war of words between 71-year-old President Donald Trump and 33-year-old North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
DPRK’s Ri: “The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country. Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.”
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reminds readers: “The North is known to have an early warning radar system that has a detection range of up to 600 kilometers.”
@Armscontrolwonk Jeffrey Lewis: “In case you wonder whether North Korea would shoot at a US aircraft,” consider this tragic December 1994 incident; or this much more deadly 1969 episode under President Nixon; or this intercept in 2003.
China’s reax: Can you guys cool it? Or, more literally, “We hope all sides do not continue doing things to irritate each other and should instead exercise restraint,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
White House cabinet officials: “We have not declared war on North Korea,” the Associated Press reported — and “We’re not looking for regime change… But the more Trump muddies the picture, the tougher it may become to maintain cooperation with China and Russia, which seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis and not a new U.S. ally suddenly popping up on their borders.”
North Korea has strengthened defenses on its eastern coast, a South Korean lawmaker said this morning. “South Korean lawmaker Lee Cheol-uoo, briefed by the country’s spy agency, said the reclusive North was in fact bolstering its defenses by moving aircraft to its east coast and taking other measures after U.S. bombers flew close to the Korean peninsula at the weekend.”
From Defense One
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'It's Never a Good Time for the Iraqi Kurds to Become Independent' // Diego Cupolo: The Turkish government believes that self-determination for the Kurds represents an existential threat to the NATO ally.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1931: The keel is laid for the USS Ranger (CV 4), the first ship designed and built to be an aircraft carrier. Have something you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Lt. Gen. HR McMaster made a rare public appearance Monday at the Institute of the Study of War’s invite-only, off-camera security conference, Defense One’s Kevin Baron writes on location. For a full hour, Trump’s national security adviser talked onstage with Mike Gordon, now of the Wall Street Journal about the president, world events, and his job. McMaster did a lot of explaining about the White House’s processes and reasoning behind its security decisions, from North Korea to Syria. He also chuckled dismissively about Trump’s tweet-threats to make North Korean leaders disappear. And he pushed back on the notion that he — or anyone — can keep Trump in line.
McMaster, on his job: "There's nobody there to control the president or 'keep him on the reservation.' We're there to serve the president and help him to advance his agenda."
McMaster’s answer drew intense criticism on Twitter from people who think the 3-star general should “serve the Constitution,” and not the policy objectives (that they disagree with). But while McMaster advocated policy openly, he talks about his job the same way any general does, which is to say, he’s there to provide policy options to his civilian commander.
Changes at the National Security Council: “The president is not a policy wonk, at all. He’s a business person and what he demands is results. And what that has done is, it’s changed the way that we do things.” Among those changes: the NSC has gotten rid of long policy briefs. McMaster said Trump has requested his national security briefs shortened to focus on policy goals and objectives, so instead of 60-page tomes days before meetings, he receives “succinct summary” five-page briefs, which McMaster said was an improvement on previous practice. “What the president has forced is discipline,” he said.
On staff discipline: “Now, there are some people who have maybe misunderstood what their role was…and they thought their role was to advance a narrow agenda that may or may not be the president’s agenda, and to manipulate decisions to advance their agenda. And so, those people are largely gone. And they’re not going to get around John Kelly, for sure. And that’s good. And the president appreciates it, and we all appreciate it.”
Kelly has done a magnificent job: “You hear these stories about chaos, right? There’s chaos in the White House. I haven’t seen any chaos…we were actually working in a sensible and effective way.”
On North Korea: McMaster said they know there is no military quick hit to stop Kim’s nuclear progress: “There's not a precision strike that solves the problem." The White House would start talks with Pyongyang — but not like before, he said, and not if they continue to advance missile and nuclear bombs at the same time.
On Iran, he said the deal is “the worst deal” but did not criticize its ability to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, he kept on about wanting a wider deal that limits Iran’s other destabilizing activities.
On NATO and international organizations: McMaster said Trump likes them.
Hurricane relief in ‘raw and primitive’ conditions. Some 2,600 U.S. troops are helping Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. “The military has focused primarily on conducting search and rescue operations, delivering life-sustaining supplies and providing generators and fuel to power critical infrastructure such as water treatment facilities and hospitals,” Stripes reported.
About 10,000 feds and troops are in the Caribbean, a group that includes FEMA employees, Coast Guardsmen, and National Guard troops, the Washington Post reports, adding that “conditions in the wake of Hurricane Maria have become raw and primitive amid an intensifying fear that the worst of the crisis is yet to come.”
Why? “Puerto Rico has 3.4 million residents, and another 100,000 live in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Clean water is a basic daily necessity. These islands’ residents will need orders of magnitude more—plus food, fuel, electricity, housing, medicine, and more—in the months to come until local capacity is restored,” writes Philip Carter in Slate, who argues that the Trump administration has responded slowly and inadequately to the catastrophe.
Puerto Rico has no functioning power grid, Gov. Ricardo Rossello told NPR this morning. (These before-and-after satellite photos at night tell the story.) The “rate-limiting factor” for getting supplies to devastated areas is logistics; he says the American island needs truck drivers and gas-station operators — and air traffic controllers.
The Marines are on that last one: The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has air control teams working to open airfields at both St. Croix and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a Navy statement quoted by USNI News, which goes on to say that as of Monday afternoon, the Navy and Marines had delivered 11 tons of supplies to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Most of the aid is being delivered by helicopter from the three ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and their embarked Marines, who arrived in the Caribbean in mid-September to help victims of Irma. The group withdrew from the islands as Maria approached last Wednesday, and returned as soon as possible thereafter, Manning said.
Happening today: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford goes before the House Armed Services Committee for renomination to his current gig. Watch that live, here.
Kurdish referendum update: With a turnout of close to 80 percent, Monday’s referendum vote on Kurdish independence in Iraq “is expected to deliver a comfortable ‘yes,’” Reuters reports, noting final results aren’t expected before Thursday.
The question put to voters: Do you want the Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas outside the [Kurdistan] Region to become an independent country?
BTW: The Kurds’ elections systems were targeted by cyber attacks “more than 100,000 times,” Kurdish Rudaw news reports.
The bigger picture, according to The New York Times: “The vote won’t automatically trigger independence, but the U.S. and Middle Eastern governments say it could mean the end of a unified Iraq, destabilizing the greater region and undermining Iraq’s fight against Islamic State.”
The big concern, of course, is “with 30 million ethnic Kurds scattered across the region — mainly in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria — Tehran and Ankara fear the spread of separatism to their own Kurdish populations.”
The reaction in Syria: Damascus isn’t against Kurds negotiating for their autonomy, the foreign minister said today.
The reaction in Iran: close flights to Kurdish territory. More on that from Al-Jazeera, here.
Another day in Kurdistan, another threat from Turkish President Erdogan. This time that the world’s largest stateless nation will “will go hungry” if Turkey imposes the sanctions Erdogan wants for the Kurds seeking independence. More from Reuters.
How Mattis sees India playing a bigger role in Afghanistan — and the U.S. defense industry. There was a lot more of the latter than the former in this report from Reuters, one of a small group of reporters traveling with Mattis to New Delhi Monday.
On the latter: “Indian and U.S. negotiators are now trying to move forward with a deal to supply the Indian navy with 22 Sea Guardian drone aircraft, whose June approval by the U.S. government was the first such clearance to a non-NATO ally. India wants the unarmed drones to help its navy lengthen the duration of its surveillance in the Indian Ocean, where Chinese naval ships and submarines make regular forays... The two sides will also discuss Lockheed Martin’s (LMT.N) offer to build F-16 fighter planes in India as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to build a domestic military industrial base.”
And on the former: “New Delhi has committed $3 billion in development projects in Afghanistan and trains Afghan officers in India.” Not a great deal more on that angle just yet. Read on, here.
Lastly today: Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Scott Swift, “will retire after being passed over for the top job at U.S. Pacific Command,” Navy Times reported Monday.
Said Swift in a statement Monday: “In keeping with tradition and in loyalty to the Navy, I have submitted my request to retire. I do so with great appreciation and gratitude for the honor of having served so many Sailors and their families for what will be 40 years in January.”
Oh, and in case you’re curious: “Pacific Fleet encompasses 100 million square miles, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, and stretches from the American West Coast to the Indian Ocean,” Navy Times writes. “It oversees about 200 ships and boats, nearly 1,200 aircraft and more than 130,000 personnel.”
Writes Doctrine Man: “Swift was the real deal, but two collisions at sea sealed his fate.” Read on, here.