Today's D Brief: Hundreds airlifted from wildfires; Navy’s Large Scale lessons; N. Korea’s next move; Army signatures; And just a bit more.
Canada’s military airlifted hundreds of citizens away from wildfires in the country’s Northwest Territories this week, where officials declared a state of emergency on Tuesday. The regional capital of Yellowknife, located about 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle, declared a local state of emergency on Monday.
More than 6,500 people were told to evacuate part of the territories as more than 230 active wildfires roll through the region. “Some, like residents in the town of Hay River, were forced to evacuate for the second time this summer,” the BBC reports. “Others were sheltering in Hay River from Fort Smith before they were forced to evacuate again on Sunday.”
Big picture: Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, with more than 1,000 active fires still burning across the country, charring more than 32 million acres, which is nearly the size of Greece. “All we can do is pray now, and hope that the guy upstairs says 'we're going to let you go this year,’” one resident said.
Officials are now bracing for wildfires to continue into the fall. The country has already “deployed 5,821 domestic firefighters and 4,990 international firefighters from 12 countries to battle wildfires across the country,” one official said over the weekend.
“The science is clear that longer, tougher fire seasons are going to be part of our future,” said Michael Norton, a director general of Natural Resources Canada.
The latest from Hawaii wildfire recovery efforts: The death toll has risen to 106 people, but only about a quarter of the burn area has been searched so far. The fire that destroyed the Maui town of Lahaina is still burning, but it’s at least 85% contained (just as it was Monday evening), Maui County officials said Tuesday. Get the latest from FEMA, including ways you can pitch in via donations, here.
Almost two dozen active-duty soldiers are on Maui helping with recovery, along with 184 Army National Guard and 116 Air Force Guard troops, a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesperson told Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin named Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Stephen Logan as commander of Joint Task Force 50 (pronounced five-o, like the TV series), Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said during a press briefing Tuesday. That task force will “provide command and control of Guard and active-duty assets to assist Maui County as they plan and begin recovery efforts,” Hawaii officials said.
U.S. Army Pacific is working six missions for FEMA, Singh said, including transporting cargo, people, supplies, and equipment between islands by sea and by air. Officials are also setting up a coordination office to use the Army’s Schofield Barracks on Oahu for “billeting, life support, and hygiene facilities for federal emergency responders,” she said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is removing debris and providing temporary electricity in Maui, Singh said. Another 140 Coast Guardsmen are helping with environmental cleanup work along the coast.
FEMA also deployed more than 140 Urban Search and Rescue personnel, and they’ve “integrated with the Maui Fire Department to help conduct search and rescue operations across a search zone that is several miles wide,” White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton said Tuesday.
President Biden and his wife Jill will visit Maui on Monday, though he said this week that he wants to make sure they do not get in the way of recovery efforts.
- “Videos put scrutiny on downed power lines as possible cause of deadly Maui wildfires,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday;
- “Maui tourism, an economic mainstay, sparks anger amid fire ruin,” Reuters reported Tuesday;
- “Dog Burned in Maui Wildfires is Reunited with Owners After Running Away from Flames,” People reported Wednesday.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Jennifer Hlad. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. Happy National Airborne Day, a commemoration of the first series of parachute jumps at the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning, now Fort Moore.
It’s starting to look like North Korea could give its captured American soldier the “gilded cage” treatment, which is a template the Communist country has used going back decades to needle the U.S. from afar. In the past, the process typically began a short time after North Korea obtained a defector or detained a person fleeing the U.S. or a U.S. ally, and it almost always involved the detainee allegedly speaking out against U.S. or Western society or values in exchange for some degree of lenience in detention. (James Joseph Dresnok is perhaps the most prominent example from history; he defected in 1962 and passed away in 2016.)
North Korean state media broke a nearly month-long silence Wednesday to confirm it is indeed holding U.S. Army Private Travis King, who fled to North Korea in July, reportedly laughing as he crossed the border in an apparent effort to avoid disciplinary proceedings back stateside. King is a 23-year-old Black soldier born in Wisconsin; he was serving as a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division when the incident occurred last month. (Dresnok was also a private with the cavalry scouts when he chose to defect.)
North Korea said Wednesday that King fled to avoid “racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” which Reuters reports fits a particular pattern for Pyongyang propaganda efforts going back decades. “North Korea highlights racism in the United States to cast a negative light on it, and to make the point that the United States, which regularly points to human rights conditions in other countries, is in no position to do so,” Rachel Minyoung Lee of the Stimson Center told Reuters. And like clockwork, according to North Korean state media, King “also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.”
However, Pyongyang also described King as an “illegal intruder” rather than a defector, which “raises the possibility for North Korea to send him to a third country, where U.S. officials can pick up and bring him home if he wishes,” a South Korean lawmaker told Reuters. And his apparent willingness to cross the border (as opposed to being abducted, e.g.) would seem to eliminate him from potential prisoner of war status, further complicating his future. Still, “It is a mistake to think that North Korea is or needs to be in a hurry,” Christopher Green of the International Crisis Group told the BBC.
What comes next? “Perhaps the regime will try to ‘bargain’ King’s life in exchange for financial concessions from the U.S.,” former CIA analyst Soo Kim told the Associated Press. “More than likely, negotiations won’t be easy, and terms will be dictated by Pyongyang,” she added.
- “North Korea’s Abduction Project,” which is a profile of North Korea’s detention process published by The New Yorker in 2015;
- “For North Korea, US defectors can be a propaganda win, but a logistical pain,” Reuters reported shortly after King fled;
What happens when a crisis sprawls between combatant commands? The Navy’s Large Scale Exercise 23 aims (among other things) to train its senior leaders to operate across “seams,” and to discover what problems might emerge. D1’s Caitlin M. Kenney talked with some of the retired four-stars who are helping to run the exercises and its forthcoming lesson-learned doc. Read, here.
The U.S. Army is racing to study how its radio signals and data could make it a target in a future battle, Young Bangs, the Army’s principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology, told an audience at the TechNetCyber conference in Augusta, Georgia on Monday.
U.S. forces are “a Christmas tree when we light up. And so we have to really be focusing on more of the low signature, right? Because our threat, our peer threat in China, they can see us as well as us,” Bangs said. “And when we go and turn on our equipment, we'll just be blaring targets for them, just like Russia is right now in Ukraine.” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more from that appearance in Augusta, here.
And lastly: Retired U.S. Navy SEAL Vice Adm. Tim Szymanski recently joined the DC-based advisory firm Pallas Advisors. Szymanski was previously the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif. “Tim's experience in special operations and in various high impact roles around the world will help our network better understand what warfighters need,” Sally Donnelly of Pallas said in a statement.