North Korea Tries To Launch Ballistic Missile In An Act Of Defiance

Washington Post

TOKYO — North Korea tried but failed to launch an intermediate-range missile Friday, American and South Korean military officials said, dealing the regime an embarrassing blow on the most important day of the year in the North Korean calendar. To mark the 104th anniversary of the birthday of the country’s "eternal president," Kim Il Sung, North Korea launched a missile from its East Coast at about 5:30 a.m. local time. But it deviated from a "normal" trajectory, an official from South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters in Seoul.

“North Korea appears to have tried a missile launch from the East Sea [Sea of Japan] area early morning today, but it is presumed to have failed,” the official said.

But South Korea's military is still on high alert. "We are preparing against the possibility that the North could carry out heavyweight provocations at any time, including the fifth nuclear test," a military official said, according to the Yonhap News Agency. A U.S. defense official said that the U.S. Strategic Command systems had also “detected and tracked” the missile. “We assess that the launch failed,” he said.

Initial analysis suggested that the missile was a Musudan, also known as a BM-25, the kind that South Korean authorities had detected being moved Thursday near Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast.

The Musudan is an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of traveling 1,500 to 2,500 miles — putting the U.S. territory of Guam within reach — and of carrying a 1.3-ton nuclear warhead, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative. North Korea has displayed the Musudan at its military parades and is believed to have supplied assembly kits for the missile to Iran, but it had never tested this model of missile before.

Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California, said that the failure would “reinforce the persistent denial” about North Korea’s capabilities.

“But in fact, they will have learned a lot from this launch. Not as much as they would have learned if it had succeeded, but still something,” Lewis said.

The Musudan uses the same sort of engine as the submarine-launched ballistic missile that North Korea tested last year but which also failed.

“Clearly they have a problem, but maybe next time it will work. It took them a couple of launches to get the Taepodong-2 going,” Lewis said, referring to the ballistic-missile technology that has now put two North Korean satellites into orbit. At the same time, North Korea has been making a series of claims about technological advances, from building solid-fuel rocket engines to miniaturizing nuclear warheads. The regime recently claimed that it could send a ­nuclear-tipped missile to the U.S. mainland.

Although this has not been proved, U.S. military officials and nonproliferation experts say that North Korea is clearly working toward this goal. The Musudan test could be part of this program.

At a hearing of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee this week, Brian McKeon, a senior Pentagon official, said that North Korea’s weapons and missile programs pose a growing threat to the United States and its allies in East Asia. North Korea is “seeking to develop longer-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the United States and continues efforts to bring [a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile] to operational capacity,” he said.

Although an untested long-range missile was unlikely to be reliable, North Korea’s successful satellite launches showed it was mastering the technologies that would be needed, McKeon said.

Since Kim Jong Un ordered his military to conduct a fourth nuclear test in January — which North Korea claimed as a hydrogen-bomb explosion, although outside experts are highly skeptical — there has been a steady stream of projectiles emanating from North Korea.

In February, Kim oversaw the launch of what North Korea said was a satellite launch vehicle but which was widely viewed as part of an intercontinental ballistic missile program. Since then, there have been numerous short-range missile launches and rockets fired into the Sea of Japan.

North Korea is banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions from launching ballistic missiles or carrying out nuclear tests, but it continues to do so.

The international community has responded to North Korea’s latest provocations with tough sanctions aimed at cutting off the state’s ability to procure parts and finance its weapons-of-mass-destruction program.

This push coincided with two-month-long drills between the U.S. and South Korean militaries, during which they are practicing their response to the collapse of North Korea. The drills, which conclude at the end of this month, include computer-simulated “decapitation strikes” on the North Korean leadership. Amid this background of heightened tensions, North Korea has been preparing for two key events — the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth and the first congress of the communist Workers’ Party in 36 years.

The country is in the grip of a “70-day campaign” to prepare for the congress, set for early next month for the first time since 1980. Analysts expect Kim Jong Un to use the event to bolster his legitimacy.

Kim, who is 33, is not only incredibly young by standards of Korea, where age is revered, but also did not have the kind of long preparation and introduction his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, enjoyed. 

Fight Over GI Bill Cuts Builds: 'Either You're With Us or Against Us'

Marine Corps Times

A coalition of Democratic lawmakers and veterans organizations is vowing to block any legislation that includes proposed cuts to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, even if that means shelving a host of other proposals they authored.

At issue is a measure passed without objection in the House earlier this year which would cut in half the housing stipend for dependents of veterans attending school on GI Bill benefits. The move would save the government about $773 million over the next 10 years and help pay for a host of other veterans initiatives.

“This goes back on a promise that all of us here are unwilling to break,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. “In the entire federal budget, there is nowhere else to fund [veterans] programs? That cannot stand.”

For students in high-cost cities such as San Diego or New York, that cut would total $1,000 to $1,800 a month. It would not affect students already using the transferred benefit but could affect families planning on the extra money in the future.

But officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the move goes back on a promise made to those families that the full benefit would be available when they need it, and for the first time pulls money out of the GI Bill to fund outside programs.

They painted the legislative proposal as a betrayal of veterans’ service and accused lawmakers of viewing earned benefits as a “piggy bank” for other wants.

“This is a whole new level of stupid, to cut the GI Bill in a time of war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of IAVA. “This is about keeping a promise, investing in the future, about retention and recruiting and morale.

“Find the money somewhere else. Either you’re with us or against us.”

Officials from Student Veterans of America pushed back on that ultimatum, saying the issue is more complex than the opposition coalition will admit.

“We need to remember who the Post-9/11 GI Bill was intended for: veterans,” said Derek Fronabarger, SVA’s director of policy.

He challenged the idea that the legislative proposal amounts to “cuts” in veterans benefits, saying “in reality the changes are a transfer of benefits from dependents, via a 50 percent drop in [housing stipends], to Fry Scholarship recipients and reservists.”

Supporters of the cut have also argued that the benefit is overly generous to children of troops, sometimes awarding them housing stipends well beyond their dorm and living costs.

Savings from the change also would go to pay for a host of other programs, leaving other veterans groups with a difficult choice of whether to support the proposal.

"The Veterans of Foreign Wars would never actively support any standalone provision that reduces benefits for veterans or service members, but we felt that [this bill], taken in its entirety, contained enough good provisions to support its passage," said VFW national spokesman Joe Davis.

He noted that among those are improvements to postnatal care for female veterans, expanded service animal therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, reauthorization of the veterans work-study programs, and critical changes to VA home loan guarantees.

But Walz and others argued that’s a false choice. Michael Little, director of legislative affairs for the Association of the United States Navy, said any cut to the GI Bill benefit risks adding to the stress load of military and veteran families.

“If we want to talk about funding veterans' benefits, the last place we need to look for money is in the GI Bill,” he said. “The discussion about the GI Bill shouldn't be about where we'll cut, it should be on sustaining and strengthening it beyond our current military budget situation.”

So far, Senate lawmakers haven’t indicated whether they’ll move ahead with the House proposal or revise it for inclusion in an anticipated veterans omnibus package due out before the end of the month.

Opponents hope the latest objections convince them to look elsewhere for money.

“When we look troops in the eye and make them promises … they expect us to keep those promises,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth, R-Ill. “It’s not fair to rob one group of veterans to pay for services for another.

“We can do better.”

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

 

Gen. Allen: Empowering Iraqi Forces is Key to Controlling ISIS

NPR

Until recently, retired Marine Gen. John Allen led the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Allen about U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria and whether it's working.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the last year, the U.S. and its allies have been enmeshed in a complicated war with ISIS. It's happening on the ground in places like Syria and Iraq, where the so-called Islamic State is trying to build up a caliphate. And it's happening online, where the group actively recruits would-be jihadis from around the world, including from the U.S. and Europe. The man you're about to hear from has been at the forefront of this war. In 2014, President Obama tapped retired Marine Corps General John Allen to spearhead the U.S.-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State. General Allen stepped down from that job a couple of months ago. He joins me now in our studios to talk about the past year in the war against ISIS and how it might evolve in 2016. General Allen, thanks so much for coming in.

JOHN ALLEN: It's good to be with you.

MARTIN: May I start with a big picture question? Is the U.S. closer to containing the threat from ISIS than it was a year ago?

ALLEN: I'd say yes. Much of this year was setting the conditions, ultimately to effectively contain and then begin the process of pushing back on ISIL - or Daesh, as we've typically called it - and to begin to degrade it.

MARTIN: When you were in Iraq, you were an integral part of the Sunni Awakening, which is often credited for turning that war around, getting Sunni sheikhs on board with the U.S. coalition against militants. There have been calls for something similar to happen now, to get the Sunni sheikhs of Anbar to step up against the threat from ISIS. Do you think that's possible?

ALLEN: The Awakening as we knew it occurred because of a series of conditions that don't exist today in Iraq. What we want is not the Awakening as an entity to be replicated. What we want is the effect of the Awakening. And that is ownership by the Sunnis in the outcome. And that's what we want.

MARTIN: Develop very personal relationships.

ALLEN: Exactly correct. But we had the military capacity to do that in those days. What we need today is for the sheikhs and, more broadly, the Sunni leadership, to become invested ultimately with the defeat of Daesh.

MARTIN: But they were invested, in large part - correct me if I'm wrong. But they were invested in the fight back in '06, '07, in large part because they were paid. They were given financial incentive.

ALLEN: That wasn't the real reason. They were invested because Daesh - or at that point, al-Qaida - was attempting to wipe them out. That was - and I was there every day. And the casualties that they inflicted upon the sheikhs and their families and the individual members of the tribes were horrendous, really horrendous. The profound difference between what occurred in '06, '07 and '08 and what's occurring today - we had 35,000 Marines and soldiers in Al Anbar province. The notion that the Awakening occurred in complete isolation from the Americans is a flawed notion. It's just not historically correct. The reason the Awakening could get on its feet was because Marines and soldiers fought and died every single day to shape the environment that created the space for the tribes to get on their feet. That's why it was so powerful. Now, we don't have those kinds of forces there today.

MARTIN: Should U.S. ground forces be there? I mean, in many ways, this is a traditional war. ISIS needs territory in order to maintain its legitimacy. It's what its mandate, its mission, is all about is creating a caliphate. And they need ground to do that. Some would argue that in order to eliminate the threat, you just - you have to go in full bore. Should the U.S. engage in a ground war in Iraq? And what would that look like? What are the consequences of that?

ALLEN: One thing that we have learned over time is that in an emergency like this, where you introduce large numbers of foreign forces, you may see some form of an immediate tactical return that's favorable - something that you want to see, the defeat tactically of the force. But often, just the very presence of those foreign forces create a whole series of dynamics and tensions that is fraught. It truly is fraught and can create additional issues as those forces begin to pull out.

MARTIN: Can you say more about what that means?

ALLEN: The resistance, as it has emerged in the Middle East over the last 20 years, has been the result of elements within populations responding to the presence of foreign troops inside the social fabric of this relatively delicate region. And so it was the right decision, I believe, to decide to do all we could to empower the indigenous forces of Iraq - and now, increasingly in Syria because we have that chance - for them to be the defeat mechanism. And I use that term very precisely, the defeat mechanism of Daesh - because if Iraqis defeat Daesh, if Iraqis are able then to stabilize and rescue the liberated populations, if Iraqis are the authors of the restoration of the infrastructure that's been defeated, that's the permanent solution. The permanent solution doesn't come with large-scale numbers of American or Western maneuver forces in a big ground battle there for weeks, taking hundreds of casualties potentially and then pulling out, having created in essence the kinds of antibodies once again in a region that has sown, in many respects, the instability that we face today. So it may take longer to empower the indigenous forces to be effective against Daesh. But they have taken Ramadi. They have taken Tikrit. They have taken Baiji. And when they take it and they stabilize the population and they rescue the population, they are the authors of their success. And that creates permanence in the outcome that we seek.

MARTIN: I imagine when you left, you had an exit interview, if not with the president himself then with top members of his national security team. May I ask you to share what you can about the guidance you gave as this threat unfolds, as the administration looks to 2016?

ALLEN: I was clear that beyond dealing with Daesh as an entity in the Middle East, we have to be extraordinarily attentive to the capacity of Daesh to create linkages with other organizations that are equally reprehensible and abhorrent - Boko Haram, for example, in Nigeria, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in the Sinai, the breakaway elements of the Taliban. We have to understand the network that operationalizes the linkage and attack that network relentlessly to disrupt it.

MARTIN: Retired Marine Corps General John Allen. He recently stepped down as the U.S. envoy to the global coalition in the fight against ISIS. Thanks so much for talking with us.

ALLEN: Great to be with you. Thank you.