North Korea’s weapon test; Taliban side-eye Afghan 250-member peace delegation; New Pakistani group executes troops; McGurk’s plan for Syria; Army Day in Iran; And a bit more.
North Korea claims to have tested a new kind of weapon, and now it wants Secretary of State Mike Pompeo removed from talks over the North’s nuclear program, according to state-run KCNA messaging Wednesday evening.
About the weapon: KCNA referred to it as a "New-Type Tactical Guided Weapon,” and it seems to have been tested Wednesday in a way that did not violate mid- or long-range ballistic missile bans, the Associated Press reports. North Korea never called their new weapon a “missile,” nonproliferation scholar Jeffrey Lewis noted. KCNA did, however, refer to the weapon having a "peculiar mode of guiding flight" and "a powerful warhead."
For what it’s worth, the North’s state-run media teased an unspecified “tactical weapon” test back in November, but there were no images with that media release. And that test happened “shortly after the US and South Korea resumed previously suspended KMEP (Korea Marine Exchange Program) activities,” The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda noted.
Below the radar. Neither NORTHCOM nor STRATCOM observed a missile launch from North Korea on Wednesday, CNN reported after the announcement from Pyongyang.
Some guesses as to what was fired: This close-range ballistic missile; or perhaps this anti-tank guided missile system, both sourced and curated by Panda. AP guesses: “A South Korean analyst said that details in the North’s media report indicate it could have been a new type of cruise missile. Another possible clue: one of the lower level officials mentioned in the North’s report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.”
For the record: Wednesday’s test “represents North Korea’s first announced test of any weapon system in 2019 and only the second since the Hwasong-15 ICBM test in Nov 2017,” IISS’s Joseph Dempsey writes.
Fine print: “This does serve as a useful reminder of one critical fact,” Harry Kazianis of the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, told Reuters, “Chairman Kim Jong Un never promised to stop testing all weapons in his military arsenal, just nuclear weapons and ICBMs that have the potential to hit the U.S. homeland.” This same point was also made again five days ago in public remarks from Kim himself, Panda flagged here.
White House reax: “We are aware of the report and have no further comment.”
Bigger picture: “Mr. Kim, who has pledged to revitalize the North’s economy, needs sanctions relief to accomplish that goal but has few levers to pull as nuclear talks hit an impasse,” the Wall Street Journal writes.
Kim Jong-un also, this week: oversaw an exercise of North Korea’s “Air Force Unit 1017 (featuring Mig-29 and Su-25 aircraft) at Sunchon Air Force Base” on Tuesday, initially flagged Wednesday before all the mystery weapon chatter began.
About Pompeo, DPRK pointed to last week before the Senate when he said Kim could be seen as a tyrant. DPRK’s Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the American Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry, essentially said Pompeo is no longer welcome in Pyongyang.
The longer version of that message: “In his previous visits to Pyongyang, Pompeo was granted audiences with our Chairman of the State Affairs Commission for several times and pleaded for the denuclearization. However, after sitting the other way round, he spouted reckless remarks hurting the dignity of our supreme leadership at Congress hearings last week… Therefore, even in the case of possible resumption of the dialogue with the United States, I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but other person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”
One sign this was all coming: This Reuters headline from three days ago, “Trump, Pompeo brush aside Kim's deadline for nuclear talks flexibility.”
On the bright side, the North Korea’s Kwon said President Trump and Kim Jong-un still have great rapport; it’s just Pompeo that has to go.
From Defense One
New Nuclear Missiles' Cost Estimate Changes Again // Marcus Weisgerber: The fight over America's nuclear missile future gets cloudier, as Air Forces says expensive silo improvements would be needed for any new ICBMs.
Air Force to Begin Shifting Research Funds to These Kinds of Next-Gen Weapons // Patrick Tucker: The Pentagon's continues to shift focus toward Moscow and Beijing with a new push for tomorrow's drone swarms and smart missiles.
The US Is Investing in AI for High-Powered Satellite Imagery Analysis // Jack Corrigan via NextGov: The Intelligence Community envisions a system combining archives with real-time surveillance footage from drones and other aircraft.
Judge Lifts Stay on the Pentagon's JEDI Cloud Contract // Jack Corrigan via NextGov: But the department must wait until at least July 19 to make an award.
Ukraine's Election Is an All-Out Disinformation Battle // Nina Jankowicz via The Atlantic: Ahead of the presidential election, the campaigns themselves have become combatants in the information war. That's exactly what Russia wants.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson with Kevin Baron. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, the first issue of the modern version of Stars and Stripes was published.
On this Mueller report release day, we'd like to remind readers that our National Security Correspondent Katie Bo Williams spent much of the past several years covering the Russia investigation, but today reports live from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Have questions about the future of detentions and military commissions? Send 'em her way, and stay tuned...
Afghanistan wanted to bring 250 people to Friday’s Taliban peace talks in Qatar, so the Taliban postponed it, Reuters reports.
The list included “politicians, officials, former anti-Soviet militia leaders, members of Parliament and representatives of civic and women’s groups,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Meantime, "A senior Afghan official said only that the Kabul administration hoped the meeting would take place soon.”
A new separatist group killed Pakistani Navy and Coast Guardsmen in a bus attack. The group “ambushed a bus before dawn Thursday and killed 14 people after going through their ID cards and forcing them out,” AP reports from Quetta.
Location: southwestern Baluchistan province. “The passengers targeted in the attack were killed after the assailants checked their identity cards but he could not confirm if all the slain were Punjabis… Punjabis, a different ethnic group from the Baluch, tend to dominate the ranks of the military units stationed in Baluchistan that the separatists are fighting.”
So who is this new group? Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar, and “little is known” about them, AP writes. CNN calls them “An alliance of Baloch separatists.”
Said the group in a statement to the press: "Those who were killed carried identity cards of the Pakistan Navy and Coast Guard, and were killed after being identified." A bit more, here.
Libyans attacked a major air base in the south controlled by Khalifa Haftar, whose men are trying to take control of Tripoli, Reuters reports from Benghazi.
Location: the Tamanhint base near Sabha, the main city in southern Libya. Who is attacking isn’t entirely clear just yet, Reuters writes.
American troops are still in Syria. And now Brett McGurk, the former ISIS war envoy who quit with former SecDef Jim Mattis in protest of Trump’s decision to withdraw, has some recommendations on how to move forward — or, as he puts it in his Foreign Affairs essay, advice on a “better alignment of ends and means” since, in Syria today, there are “increasing objectives” amid “decreasing resources, [which] by definition equates to significant risk.”
It’s Army Day in Iran, which means more of the usual tough talk from Rouhani. Standing before a display of new “domestically produced fighter jets and Russian-made missile systems,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today, “The roots of our problems are the Zionist regime and American imperialism.”
And to Iran’s neighbors, Rouhani said, “I want to tell the regional countries that the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran are not against you and your national interests. They stand against invaders.” Tiny bit more, here.
"Transgender people will be effectively banned from attending the Naval Academy beginning in the 2020 school year," Annapolis's Capital Gazette reported after the Pentagon confirmed it on Monday.
And finally today: Check out “The U.S. military's 44 bases and 36 code-named operations in Africa,” via Sean Naylor and Nick Turse, in Yahoo News. “Using documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, interviews, published reports and a Defense Department list of named U.S. military operations that leaked online, Yahoo News put together the following list of 36 operations and activities that are (or were until recently) ongoing in Africa.”
Some of what you’ll learn: “Eight of the named activities, including Obsidian Nomad, are so-called 127e programs, named for the budgetary authority that allows U.S. special operations forces to use certain host-nation military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions.”
Activities include "electronic surveillance… conducted from ships off the coast of East Africa"; airlift ops for regional partners into the Central African Republic to look for Joseph Kony's army; training and equipping Ethiopians; counterpiracy ops "with the Senegalese and Cabo Verdean navies," and more. Dive into that big rollup, here.