U.S.-backed force claims capture of ISIS’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa

The Washington Post reports: U.S. backed forces in Syria claimed full control of the Islamic State’s onetime capital of Raqqa on Tuesday, heralding an end to the militants’ presence in their most symbolically important stronghold and bringing closer the likelihood of their complete territorial demise.

Talo Silo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said that military operations had halted and that members of the joint Kurdish-Arab force were clearing the city of explosive devices and hunting for sleeping cells.

It was still unclear whether some Islamic State pockets remained, but the SDF portrayed the battle for Raqqa as effectively over.

Besieged and severely weakened, dozens of militants had launched a final stand from inside Raqqa’s main hospital and stadium. But hundreds of others surrendered during the final days of the battle after local officials brokered a controversial deal which could see many escape prosecution. [Continue reading…]

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Somalia bombing may have been revenge for botched U.S.-led operation

The Guardian reports: The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the centre of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said.

The death toll from the bombing now stands at more than 300, making it one of the most devastating terrorist attacks anywhere in the world for many years. On Tuesday remains of victims were still being brought out of rubble spread over hundreds of square metres.

Investigators believe the attack on Saturday may in part have been motivated by a desire for revenge for the botched US-led operation in August.

Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but a member of the cell detained by security forces has told interrogators the group was responsible, one security official told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military to begin drills to evacuate Americans from South Korea

The New York Times reports: The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

It has been conducting similar noncombatant evacuation exercises for decades, along with other joint military exercises with South Korea. But when tensions escalate with North Korea, as they have recently, such drills draw outsize attention and ignite fear among South Koreans, some of whom take them as a sign that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most. [Continue reading…]

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Amid Trump’s ambiguity on North Korea, is the U.S. practicing for war?

The Associated Press reports: White House chief of staff John Kelly said Thursday that North Korea can’t be allowed to develop the ability to strike the U.S. but the threat is “manageable” for now.

Jim Schoff, a former senior Pentagon adviser for East Asia policy, said it doesn’t appear “U.S. policymakers think we’re on the brink of all-out war.”

But he added that doesn’t mean the administration is bluffing or has ruled out some kind of limited strike in response to a North Korean provocation. He said most telling were the repeated B1-B bomber flights, which he said were not intended just to signal U.S. resolve, but to practice making the long flight from the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam where they are based, and “to get a feel for what kind of air defenses North Korea has and how we see them react.”

Trump on Tuesday discussed with military chiefs, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, “a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or, if necessary, to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” the White House said.

“If we made a decision to strike a few strategic targets in North Korea it could happen very quickly,” said Rob Givens, a former Air Force brigadier general who served as deputy assistant chief of staff for operations of U.S. Forces Korea. He said unless the U.S. decided to undertake a visible military buildup to deter Pyongyang, the public was unlikely to see an attack coming. [Continue reading…]

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Demonstrating his status as a moron, Trump said he wanted to see a tenfold increase in nuclear arsenal

NBC News reports: President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a “moron.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump touts military option for North Korea that generals warn would be ‘horrific’

Foreign Policy reports: The United States can’t rule out military options for North Korea. There’s no military solution to North Korea. Diplomacy is our best bet with North Korea. Don’t waste time with diplomacy.

The world is reeling from the contradictory messages President Donald Trump and his administration are churning out on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threat. That includes Trump tweeting on Oct. 1 that Rex Tillerson, his own secretary of state, was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate an end to the North Korean conflict, and tweeting on Oct. 7 that after 25 years of failed talks, “only one thing will work!”

In the midst of the policy whiplash from the top, the Pentagon and State Department are quietly chugging away at the ground level, where the foreign policy of Trump’s Twitter feed is competing with foreign policy of the rest of the U.S. government.

U.S. military leaders, in particular, continue to insist that any engagement with the North Koreans must be led by the country’s diplomats. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea ‘hackers steal U.S.-South Korea war plans’

BBC News reports: Hackers from North Korea are reported to have stolen a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including a plan to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a South Korean lawmaker, said the information was from his country’s defence ministry.

The compromised documents include wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.

They also include reports to the allies’ senior commanders.

The South Korean defence ministry has so far refused to comment about the allegation.

Plans for the South’s special forces were reportedly accessed, along with information on significant power plants and military facilities in the South.

Mr Rhee belongs to South Korea’s ruling party, and sits on its parliament’s defence committee. He said some 235 gigabytes of military documents had been stolen from the Defence Integrated Data Centre, and that 80% of them have yet to be identified. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan president, U.S. general vow to unleash ‘a tidal wave of air power’ to defeat Taliban

The Washington Post reports: With a just-delivered Black Hawk helicopter sitting on a military runway behind him, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, vowed Saturday that “a tidal wave of air power is on the horizon” in the war against Taliban insurgents and that “this is the beginning of the end for the Taliban.”

Moments later, a second new Black Hawk descended and hovered over the runway as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised the nation’s air force pilots as “the real champions” of the 16-year conflict. Now that a new Afghan-U. S. military effort will triple the country’s air force capacity and double its special operations forces, he declared, “terrorists will not triumph here.”

The elaborately staged ceremony at Kandahar Air Base marked the formal launch of an ambitious plan to modernize and expand the Afghan air force over the next five years. A variety of U.S. military aircraft including 159 UH-60 Black Hawks are being supplied by the United States, and a new cohort of Afghan combat pilots are being trained — or retrained after years of flying Soviet-era choppers — by American military and civilian advisers. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. defense secretary breaks with Trump in backing Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: The US defense secretary, James Mattis, has backed the nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is in the interests of national security to maintain it, breaking with Donald Trump and potentially making it harder for the president to withdraw from the deal.

The timing and nature of Mattis’s remarks are particularly significant because Trump has threatened to withhold certification of the 2015 international agreement in a report to Congress due on 15 October . Under the relevant legislation, the administration has to certify whether Iran is in material breach of the agreement, or if the deal is not serving the national interest.

Mattis was asked at a hearing of the Senate armed services committee whether he believed it was currently in the US national security interest to remain in the agreement.

After a significant pause, the defense secretary replied: “Yes, senator, I do.”

At the same hearing, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford agreed that Iran was abiding by the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which he said had delayed Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Last week, Dunford said the US should uphold the agreement, in the absence of a clear Iranian breach, or risk losing credibility when it came to signing future agreements. [Continue reading…]

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Almost two weeks after being devastated by Hurricane Maria, a surge of aid finally starts arriving in Puerto Rico

The New York Times reports: A surge of fuel and food supplies and federal government personnel has begun to arrive in Puerto Rico, the governor of the storm-battered island said Sunday morning.

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló told reporters that over the next two days, more than half a million barrels of diesel fuel and nearly a million barrels of gasoline would reach Puerto Rico. The fuel is badly needed to power emergency generators and to distribute food and other supplies across the island.

Mr. Rosselló said that the Defense Department had increased its footprint on Puerto Rico to 6,400 people, from roughly 4,600 two days earlier, with more coming, and that other federal agencies were also sending more staff to aid in the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, which smashed through the island on Sept. 20.

The Trump administration’s response to the disaster has become a heated political issue. Some Puerto Rican officials, including the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, have made televised pleas for a faster and more robust response. Others, like the governor, have spoken more positively about federal efforts. [Continue reading…]

The Hill reports: The number of Puerto Ricans without access to drinking water has risen sharply, the Defense Department announced on Saturday.

Fifty-five percent of the population did not have access to drinking water, the Pentagon said in a Saturday press release. [Continue reading…]

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Army Corps: Puerto Rico looks a lot like Iraq in 2003

Vox reports: Most of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents are still in the dark, nine days after Hurricane Maria engulfed the island.

The storm’s 150 mph winds and a 20-inch cascade of rain created a vast humanitarian crisis, with residents now scrounging for food, clean water, and fuel to keep cool in the sweltering heat.

The damage is especially stark for Puerto Rico’s energy network, which was struggling with bad finances and poor maintenance even before the hurricane swept through.

And for Col. James DeLapp, commander of the Recovery Field Office for Puerto Rico at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the scene on the ground — and the challenge ahead — looks lot like what the Army Corps faced after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

“We had a very similar situation following the opening of the Iraq War,” said DeLapp. “This is very reminiscent of that type of effort.” [Continue reading…]

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If North Korea fires an ICBM, the U.S. might have to shoot it down over Russia

Patrick Tucker writes: If Pyongyang fires a missile at the United States, its most-likely trajectory would take it over the North Pole. A U.S. attempt to shoot down that missile would probably occur within Russian radar space — and possibly over Russia itself. “It’s something we’re aware of,” Gen. Lori Robinson, who leads both U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said Wednesday. “It’s something we work our way through.”

By year’s end, the U.S. will have deployed 44 ground-based interceptors, or GBIs: 40 at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. If deterrence fails, those interceptors would be the last line of defense against a North Korean missile. Each incoming ICBM might be met with four or more GBIs.

Last week, Joshua Pollack told an audience at the annual Air Force Association conference in Washington D.C. that the most probable intercept route aims the U.S. GBI “into the teeth of the Russian early warning net.”

The actual route will depend on the incoming missile’s course and speed, and just how quickly the U.S. system can react. Pollack, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, elaborated in a subsequent writeup of his presentation. “Defending a West Coast target…means engaging the attacking [reentry vehicle] above the Russian Far East. Yikes.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Army takes over massive mission to save Puerto Rico

The Daily Beast reports: The U.S. Army will take over recovery operations in Puerto Rico, Col. Jorge Santini of Puerto Rico’s National Guard state command told The Daily Beast. The announcement is expected Thursday afternoon.

U.S. Northern Command appointed Army Brig. Gen. Richard Kim on Wednesday to oversee operations. The Army will oversee every facet of the massive mission and coordinate with the National Guard, FEMA, and Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s office, Santini said. Approximately 2,600 U.S. military personnel and Guard members are currently involved in Hurricane Maria relief efforts, the Pentagon said.

“We need more manpower, more resources, more help, quickly and efficiently,” Santini said. “We needed to federalize the recovery plan.”

Ret. Gen. Russel Honore, who led the military effort in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, told NPR on Thursday morning and far more troops are needed.

“Puerto Rico is a bigger and tougher mission than Katrina,’ Honore said, adding 20,000 federal troops and 40,000 National Guard were under his command. Honore said twice as many are needed for Puerto Rico.

“We started moving about four days too late,” Honore said. [Continue reading…]

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Afghanistan: What troops can’t fix

Ahmed Rashid writes: For Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Afghanistan was “the just war,” but for President Donald Trump it is just a war he didn’t want to deal with. Reluctant from the start of his term to send more US troops to Afghanistan, after taking eight months to decide what to do, Trump has finally been persuaded to send 3,900 more troops by a military high command that is getting anxious about the possibility of failure. There is no timeline for American troops to come home.

The war has gone on for sixteen years, and as recent meetings at the United Nations General Assembly demonstrated, it has become even more complicated than the one fought by Bush or Obama. Afghanistan faces a number of growing internal threats: terrorist attacks, loss of territory to the Taliban, economic collapse, corruption, growing public disenchantment, and an internal political crisis as warlords and ethnic politicians challenge the government of President Ashraf Ghani. But the gravest new threat is regional. At least three nearby states—Pakistan, Iran, and Russia—are now helping the Taliban, according to US generals, Western diplomats, and Afghan officials I have spoken to.

Yet there appears to be little awareness of these threats in Washington. Trump’s policy statement on Afghanistan on August 21 and his address to the UN on September 19 talked up the US military deployment, and his language was a smokescreen of “winning” and “victory” that gave no hint as to what these troops would do differently to gain back ground lost to the Taliban. In a further military escalation, the Trump administration is also preparing to dismantle limits set by Obama on drone strikes. The CIA, rather than just the Defense Department, will now be authorized to carry out drone attacks, which in the future will not require high-level vetting and will be allowed to target the foot soldiers of militant groups, as well as specified leaders. [Continue reading…]

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Is North Korea going to risk an open air nuclear test?

Gregory Kulacki writes: North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho warned reporters in New York that his country may place a live nuclear warhead on one of its missiles, launch it, and then detonate the bomb in the open air.

It would not be the first time a country conducted such a test. The Soviet Union tried and failed in 1956. The United States was successful in 1962. But perhaps the most relevant historical precedent is the Chinese test in 1966.

At the time China was nearly as isolated as North Korea is today. The Soviet Union was no longer an ally but an adversary, massing military forces along China’s northern border. The United States kept the People’s Republic out of the United Nations and encircled its eastern coast with military bases in Japan, South Korea, the Republic of China on Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Despite relentless Chinese propaganda proclaiming invincible revolutionary strength, China’s leaders felt extraordinarily insecure in the face of mounting Soviet and US pressure.

China set off its first nuclear explosion in October of 1964 and proved it could deliver a militarily useful nuclear weapon with a bomber less than a year later. But the Chinese leadership still felt a need to demonstrate it could launch a nuclear-armed missile and detonate it near a target hundreds of kilometers away. Only then could Chinese leaders feel confident they introduced the possibility of nuclear retaliation into the minds of US and Soviet officials considering a first strike. Chinese Marshall Nie Rongzhen, who led China’s nuclear weapons program and directed the test, summed up Chinese thinking in his memoir.

Mating an atomic bomb to a missile and conducting a real swords and spears test required facing very great risks. If the missile exploded at the launch site, if it fell in the middle of its flight or if it strayed out of the target area there would be unthinkable consequences. But I was deeply confident in our scientists, in our engineers and in our comrades working at the bases, who all possessed a spirit of high responsibility. Our research and design work was thorough and the medium-range missile we developed was reliable, with a highly successful launch rate. But more than that, in order to show our missiles were genuinely a weapon of great power that could be used in war we had to conduct this test of them together.

It is impossible to know if the individuals leading North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have the same degree of confidence in their technology and their personnel. But it is not hard to believe they feel the same urgent need to prove North Korea has a useable nuclear weapon, especially in the face of continuing US doubts. China’s expansive land mass allowed its leaders to conduct their test in a way that only put their own people at risk. But tiny North Korea must send its nuclear-armed missile out into the Pacific Ocean on a trajectory that would fly over Japan. If a failed North Korean test were to impact Japan it could precipitate a large-scale war in North-East Asia that could kill a million people on the first day.

Hopefully, avoiding that horrible outcome is the top priority of the North Koreans contemplating the test and the Americans considering responses. Kim and his cadres might feel less inclined to risk the test if it they were convinced President Trump and his national security team were already genuinely worried about the possibility of North Korean nuclear retaliation. Unfortunately, that’s an assurance Washington is unlikely to give Pyongyang. It still hasn’t given it to Beijing. US unwillingness to take the option of a first strike off the table, combined with demonstrations of resolve like the provocative flight of B1 bombers out of Guam and F15 fighters out of Okinawa, could tip North Korean scales in favor of conducting the test. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea says it has the right to shoot down U.S. warplanes

The New York Times reports: North Korea threatened on Monday to shoot down American warplanes even if they are not in the country’s airspace, as its foreign minister declared that President Trump’s threatening comments about the country and its leadership were “a declaration of war.”

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” the foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, told reporters as he was leaving the United Nations after a week of General Assembly meetings in New York.

“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,” he said.

Within hours, the Trump administration pushed back on Mr. Ri’s assertions, with the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, telling a news briefing in Washington: “We have not declared war on North Korea.”

The last time North Korea shot down an American warplane was in 1969, during the Nixon Administration, killing all 31 crew members of a spy plane that was flying off its coast.

Today, North Korea’s ability to make good on its threat is limited. Its air force is outdated, undertrained and frequently short of fuel. But the threat signaled another major escalation in a rhetorical exchange that many fear could push Pyongyang and Washington into a conflict, even an unintended one. [Continue reading…]

Issac Stone Fish writes: The heartening—and, for Americans, deeply sad—reality about this particular crisis is that neither Trump nor Pyongyang feel any fealty to the truth. Neither side believes the other will take his remarks at face value, and both sides seem to understand that the other rarely follows through. Kim “has been very threatening beyond a normal state,” Trump said in August, “and as I said, [his country] will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” What was striking about Trump’s threat, beyond its immorality, was its impossibility. The world has seen genocides and nuclear destruction and horrific massacres—somehow, Trump would exceed all that? It was an inconceivable threat, similar to when North Korea, in April, hinted at plans to nuke Australia, a country it almost entirely ignores, because of its close ties with America. (Like Trump, Kim is no stranger to lobbing personal insults. He called Trump a “dotard”; Trump called Kim “little Rocket Man,” and described him as “obviously a madman.”)

And while North Korea now has the potential to successfully strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped weapon, it’s worth remembering that it acted far more provocatively during the Cold War, when it had a close relationship with the Soviet Union. At that time, Washington understood that North Korean provocations—even when they led to the loss of U.S. lives—could be countered with shows of military might, diplomacy, and restraint. War was unnecessary. In the bizarre 1976 Axe Murder Incident, North Koreans killed two U.S. soldiers for trimming a tree in the Demilitarized Zone, the border that separates the two sides of the peninsula. In the aptly named Operation Paul Bunyan, President Gerald Ford responded by “launching one of the strongest shows of combined U.S. land, air, naval and special operations forces in peacetime history,” according to journalist Gordon F. Sander, sending in a U.S. military team to finish hacking the tree. For the first and only known time in history, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung responded with a formal statement of regret, Sander wrote.

On one of my visits to Pyongyang, our North Korean guides proudly took us on a tour around the USS Pueblo, a U.S. navy spy ship. In 1968, North Korean soldiers seized the ship, killing a crew member in the process. The remaining 82 crew members were tortured and held hostage for nearly a year. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson decided diplomacy was the best way to bring the Americans home—but officials in the Pentagon did consider responding with nuclear weapons, according to a now-declassified Pentagon memo. [Continue reading…]

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Puerto Rico’s governor calls for greater federal response to Maria

Politico reports: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello called on the Pentagon to provide more search-and-rescue help and humanitarian resources to help the beleaguered island recover from “complete devastation” from Hurricane Maria.

“We need more resources from the Department of Defense so we can get helicopters and resources,” Rossello told POLITICO in a phone interview Sunday night.

“We know that there are capabilities in the surrounding areas, helicopters, planes and so forth,” he said. “And our petition is for us to be able to use them.”

A Defense Department spokesperson said in an e-mail that six Navy helicopters and three Marine Osprey planes capable of vertical takeoff and landing had begun search-and-rescue operations and damage assessments.

Days after the category 4 hurricane battered the island, only a handful of municipalities have been able to make contact with San Juan or the outside world. That has prompted the commonwealth government to dispatch runners to make contact, since roads throughout much of Puerto Rico have been made impassable. [Continue reading…]

Eric Holthaus writes: Initial estimates of damage to the island exceed $30 billion. That’s roughly one-third of Puerto Rico’s annual economic output — making Maria the rough equivalent of a $500-billion disaster in New York City or a $700-billion disaster in California. With the Puerto Rican government already saddled with more than $70 billion in debt, help is going to have to come from outside the island.

Puerto Rico, partly because of its unique relationship as a United States territory, faces a long and complicated recovery. The United Nations, which does not typically support recovery efforts in developed countries, has not yet issued an appeal for aid. The U.S. federal government should pick up most of the tab through grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Congress will have to approve. So far, Maria’s impact in Puerto Rico has received only a fraction of the news coverage as Harvey’s landfall in Texas and Irma’s in Florida. That could potentially weaken public support for a multibillion-dollar aid package.

A lingering crisis could motivate a mass exodus to the U.S. mainland. But relocation is expensive, and those without the means to move could risk being left behind to shoulder an even bigger burden by themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Is Trump’s bluster elevating the risk of war?

The New York Times reports: When President Trump gave a fiery campaign speech in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday evening, he drew a rapturous roar by ridiculing Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, as “Little Rocket Man.”

Among diplomats and national security specialists, the reaction was decidedly different. After Mr. Trump repeated his taunt in a tweet late Saturday and threatened that Mr. Kim and his foreign minister “won’t be around much longer” if they continue their invective against the United States, reactions ranged from nervous disbelief to sheer terror.

Mr. Trump’s willingness to casually threaten to annihilate a nuclear-armed foe was yet another reminder of the steep risks inherent in his brute-force approach to diplomacy. His strengths as a politician — the ability to appeal in a visceral way to the impulses of ordinary citizens — are a difficult fit for the meticulous calculations that his own advisers concede are crucial in dealing with Pyongyang.

The disconnect has led to a deep uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump is all talk or actually intends to act. The ambiguity could be strategic, part of an effort to intimidate Mr. Kim and keep him guessing. Or it could reflect a rash impulse by a leader with little foreign policy experience to vent his anger and stoke his supporters’ enthusiasm.

His new chief of staff and his national security team have drawn a line at trying to rein in his more incendiary provocations, fearing that their efforts could backfire with a president who bridles at any effort to control him. What remains unclear — and the source of much of the anxiety in and out of the government and on both sides of the Pacific — is whether they would step in to prevent the president from taking the kind of drastic action that matches his words, if they believed it was imminent.

Veterans of diplomacy and national security and specialists on North Korea fear that, whatever their intended result, Mr. Trump’s increasingly bellicose threats and public insults of the famously thin-skinned Mr. Kim could cause the United States to careen into a nuclear confrontation driven by personal animosity and bravado.

“It does matter, because you don’t want to get to a situation where North Korea fundamentally miscalculates that an attack is coming,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former intelligence and National Security Council specialist who is now a senior adviser for Korea at Bower Group Asia. “It could lead us to stumble into a war that nobody wants.”

And while his bombast may be a thrill to Mr. Trump’s core supporters, there is evidence that the broader American public does not trust the president to deal with North Korea, and is deeply opposed to the kind of pre-emptive military strike he has seemed eager to threaten. [Continue reading…]

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Trump poised to drop some limits on drone strikes and commando raids

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is preparing to dismantle key Obama-era limits on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. The changes would lay the groundwork for possible counterterrorism missions in countries where Islamic militants are active but the United States has not previously tried to kill or capture them.

President Trump’s top national security advisers have proposed relaxing two rules, the officials said. First, the targets of kill missions by the military and the C.I.A., now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles. And second, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting.

But administration officials have also agreed that they should keep in place one important constraint for such attacks: a requirement of “near certainty” that no civilian bystanders will be killed.

The proposal to overhaul the rules has quietly taken shape over months of debate among administration officials and awaits Mr. Trump’s expected signature. Despite the preservation of the protections for civilians, the other changes seemed likely to draw criticism from human rights groups. [Continue reading…]

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