RAISING THE STAKES: In its most provocative act yet, North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over northern Japan at 6 a.m. Tuesday local time. Residents of the island of Hokkaido scrambled for cover, as sirens, loudspeakers, email, cellphone, and broadcast alerts warned them to stay inside as the missile passed overhead.
The missile was believed to be a road-mobile Hwasong-12, the same missile North Korea threatened to send through Japanese airspace toward the U.S. territory of Guam. But the missile was tracked on a northeasterly trajectory, away from Guam, and it easily cleared Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean. "We can confirm that the missile launched by North Korea flew over Japan," the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday, in which it also said the missile, which flew about 1,700 miles, “did not pose a threat to North America.”
South Korea’s intelligence agency reportedly briefed lawmakers that the missile was fired from a mobile launcher parked on a runway at Pyongyang’s international airport, according to the AP. The unusual location appeared aimed at showing that North Korea could launch missiles with a range of up to 3,000 miles, on short notice, from anywhere in the country. In what a spokesman for South Korean president Moon Jae-in described as a display of “a strong capability to punish the North,” four South Korean F-15s dropped 2,000-pound bombs on a military training range. Tomorrow, South Korea's Defense Minister Song Young-Moo makes a previously scheduled visit to the Pentagon.
After an emergency meeting with his national security council, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "North Korea's reckless action is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat to our nation.” Abe later consulted President Trump by phone, and told reporters afterward that Trump also said the United States was “100 percent with Japan.”
This morning, the White House put out the following statement: "The world has received North Korea's latest message loud and clear: this regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior. Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime's isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table."
UN SECURITY COUNCIL MEETS, PYONGYANG DEFIANT: The United Nations Security Council will meet today to discuss the latest provocation from Pyongyang, but North Korea (official name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) remains defiant, escalating its rhetoric as well. “The U.S. should clearly understand its rival. Its threats may work on some countries, and some others have yielded to the bluffing of the U.S.,” said an article in North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper. “The DPRK remains unshakable in its stand not to put its nuclear deterrent on the negotiating table nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threats to it are definitely terminated.”
WHY DIDN’T THEY SHOOT IT DOWN? Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. watches North Korea very closely, and can tell within minutes where a missile launched is headed. If it were to threaten the U.S. or its allies, “We’ll take it out,” Mattis told reporters. But Japan, which has U.S. Patriot missile batteries designed to destroy incoming missiles in the terminal phase, did not try to shoot down the missile. Because the North Korean missile soared high over the island, it was likely not in the effective range of the Patriot, and it was likely also clear that, barring a malfunction, the missile was on a trajectory to fall harmlessly into the sea.
TRUTH IN NUMBERS: Reporters are not the only ones frustrated by the Pentagon’s inability to provide accurate troop numbers for U.S. forces deployed in war zones in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Mattis recently complained to reporters that he inherited “a very strange accounting procedure” from the Obama administration that was designed to make it appear that there were fewer troops deployed in order to meet artificial troop caps. Now officials tell the Washington Examiner that Mattis has directed the Joint Staff to come up with a better way to inform the American public, and lawmakers, as to how many troops are in combat.
The new system would basically scrap the current Force Management Levels (with its unfortunate acronym FML), and instead provide a more realistic snapshot of how many troops are deployed at any particular time, without disclosing troop movement in or out of theater ahead of time. “Secretary Mattis is committed to developing a more transparent accounting of our troops in the field than he inherited,” said Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson in response to the Washington Examiner. The new policy is expected to be rolled out in early September.
Currently, the official number of U.S. troops in Iraq is 5,262, with 503 in Syria, and 8,400 in Afghanistan. But it’s an open secret that the real numbers are significantly higher, when temporary deployments, troop rotations and contractors performing military tasks are included.
Good Tuesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: Trump tours the disaster zone down south. At his news conference yesterday, Trump said, “To the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are 100 percent with you. We're praying for you, we're working closely with your leaders and officials.” Trump said today’s visit to what he called “the impact zone” is to ensure flood victims are “receiving full support and cooperation from the federal government.” He said he plans a return visit Saturday to both Texas and Louisiana. “We will get through this, we will come out stronger,” Trump said. “And believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before. The rebuilding will begin. And in the end, it will be something very special.”
So far there are 10 reported deaths, 30,000 displaced people, $40 billion in damage, as the rain is still falling, and waters still rising. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has activated the entire Texas National Guard of about 12,000 troops in response to the flooding.
MILITARY SURPLUS PUSHBACK: Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, calls Trump’s announced expansion of surplus military equipment transfers to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies “a dangerous decision.” In a statement, Smith said the Obama administration ban was aimed only at the kind of high-end weaponry that has little role in law enforcement, such as bayonets, grenade launchers, large-caliber weapons and ammunition. “Providing these weapons can pose risks to our communities, undermine civil liberties, and improperly blur the line between military and civil authority,” Smith said in a statement. “We should be especially concerned about handing this equipment to law enforcement agencies without proper training; processes to track where the equipment goes; and enforcement of rules that suspend law enforcement agencies from the program when they violate the law and civil rights,” Smith said.
MORE TRANSGENDER LAWSUITS: The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups on Monday filed two new federal lawsuits on behalf of transgender troops against Trump and Mattis. The ACLU filed in a Maryland district court alleging the president’s newly issued order to curb transgender service violates equal protection guarantees under the Constitution and due process by singling out those troops. Plaintiffs in that case are Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brock Stone, Army Staff Sgt. Kate Cole, a senior airman listed as John Doe, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tommie Parker, Airman 1st Class Seven Ero George, and Petty Officer 1st Class Teagan Gilbert, the group said.
In addition, the transgender plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Monday in a Washington state district court by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are Ryan Karnoski, 22, a Seattle social worker who wants to enlist; Staff Sgt. Katie Schmid, 33, a soldier serving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who applied to be an Army warrant officer; and Drew Layne, 17, of Corpus Christi, Texas, who wants to join the Air Force, according to the two advocacy groups. "We promised that we would sue if the president took this action. The law is on our side; justice is on our side," Peter Perkowski, legal director for OutServe-SLDN, said in a statement.
In another case, five transgender service members, all listed as Jane Doe in the filing, are already suing Trump, Mattis and other top military officials in a D.C. federal court, and the latest filings come days after the president ordered the Pentagon to drop plans to recruit transgender troops, halt their medical treatment, and determine within six months whether those currently serving can remain in the military. Trump ordered the Pentagon to implement the new personnel policy by March.
TRUMP SAYS ‘MANY COUNTRIES’ POSE THREAT: Trump wouldn't single out Russia as a security threat when asked yesterday during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. In response to a question about Russia posed by a Finnish reporter, Trump said, "I consider many countries as a security threat, unfortunately, when you look at what's going on in the world today,” adding, “but these are all threats that we'll be able to handle if we have to. Hopefully, we won't have to handle them. But if we do, we will handle them.”
In response to a follow up question about what the U.S. would do in the “unfortunate circumstance” if the situation in the region were to escalate, Trump said, “Well, we are very protective of that region. That's all I can say. We are very, very protective. We have great friends there, great relationships there. We are extremely protective.”
The Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are NATO allies; Finland is not.
A RASH OF BAD HEADLINES: All dropped yesterday afternoon and evening:
- New York Times: Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’
- Washington Post: Top Trump Organization executive asked Putin aide for help on business deal
- NBC News: Mueller Team Asking If Trump Tried to Hide Purpose of Trump Tower Meeting
- CNN: Exclusive: How a request about Russians made its way from West Virginia to Trump's team
RUSSIA’S THEORY: Russia accused the Trump administration of trying to set the stage for an invasion of Venezuela, in a condemnation of the latest U.S. sanctions on the South American dictatorship. "We are strongly against unilateral sanctions against sovereign states," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Monday. "We will carefully analyze the implications of the sanctions imposed by the United States, and their possible effect on the interests of Russia and Russian businesses. We can already say that they will not affect our willingness to expand and strengthen cooperation with the friendly nation of Venezuela and its people."
NOT-SO-SPECIAL ENVOYS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to pare down State Department bureaucracy by reducing the number of "special envoys," to the delight of a senior Senate Republican.
Tillerson notified Congress of his plan to reduce the number of special envoys, who are often tasked with difficult foreign policy issues outside the typical diplomatic process. The change is one of the first examples of a long-promised reorganization of the State Department. Lawmakers have signaled opposition to some aspects of the reorganization, but the special envoys policy could be a point of agreement.
"Through the years, numbers of special envoys have accumulated at the State Department, and in many cases, their creation has done more harm than good by creating an environment in which people work around the normal diplomatic processes in lieu of streamlining them," Foreign Relations Chairman Sen Bob Corker said Monday. Tillerson plans to eliminate 36 of the 66 special envoys currently on staff, according to a State Department official.
ARPAIO’S PARDON: At his new conference yesterday, the president contrasted his pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio — who he called a “patriot” — with his predecessor’s commutation of the 35-year prison term given Chelsea Manning, who Trump called a “criminal leaker.”
“President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked countless sensitive and classified documents to WikiLeaks, perhaps and others, but horrible, horrible thing that he did — commuted the sentence and perhaps pardoned,” Trump said. “Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders, and Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration, especially right before an election; an election that he would have won.”
Wall Street Journal: South Korea toughens offensive military stance, warns North against ‘crossing the line’
Washington Post: This is the U.S. military’s response to Hurricane Harvey
USNI News: Amid private yard capacity concerns, Navy trying to boost sailors’ maintenance abilities
Defense One: How James Mattis tried to explain Trump to the world
USA Today: Defeat of ISIS in northern Iraq town marks milestone in campaign to eliminate group
UPI: Navy testing wireless charging stations for undersea drones
Marine Corps Times: Navy: No hurricane damage to T-45s at Kingsville
DoD Buzz: Air Force acknowledges clandestine base in UAE
Task and Purpose: Russia just announced how many deadly T-14 Armata tanks it will build
Stars and Stripes: US to install radar systems on tiny Pacific island nation of Palau
Foreign Policy: With referendum approaching, Kurds wait for more U.S. military aid
Daily Caller: FACT CHECK: Has ’70%’ Of ISIS Territory In Iraq Been Liberated?
WEDNESDAY | AUG. 30
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Iran’s nuclear, regional and proxy challenges. heritage.org
THURSDAY | AUG. 31
11 a.m. 46870 Tate Road. C4ISR August luncheon with Capt. Jason Lopez, the program manager of the Naval Aviation Training Systems Program Office. ndia.org
TUESDAY | SEPT. 5
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Republic of Korea and U.S. strategic forum 2017: Now and the future of the alliance with Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and Mark Lippert, former U.S. ambassador to Korea. csis.org
10:30 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. A discussion on BRAC and responsibly adjusting DoD’s infrastructure to meet current and future needs with Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. heritage.org