Tag: Kim Jong-un

Guam, Japan prepare for possible North Korea missile launch

SANTA RITA, Guam. An aerial view of U.S. Naval Base Guam. Naval Base Guam supports the U.S. Pacific Fleet. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Hagatña, Guam (CNN) North Korean military figures are putting the final touches on a plan to fire four missiles into the waters around the US-territory of Guam, to be presented to leader Kim Jong Un within days.

In a statement last week, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, said the plan to fire “four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets … to signal a crucial warning to the US” would be ready by “mid-August.”

Recent days have seen a significant escalation of tensions in the region as preparations are put in place for a possible launch in Guam, Japan and South Korea.

A notice put out by Guam’s Joint Information Center Saturday warned residents how to prepare “for an imminent missile threat.”

“Do not look at the flash or fireball — it can blind you,” the note said. “Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.”

Guam’s Homeland Security Adviser George Charfauros said Friday it would take 14 minutes for a missile fired from North Korea to reach Guam.

Japan missile defense deployed

On Saturday, some of Japan’s land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors began arriving at Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) bases in three of the four prefectures any North Korean missiles would likely fly over en route to Guam.

Pyongyang identified three of those areas — Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures — in its statement last week.

A spokesman for SDF said the missiles were being deployed not to intercept missiles, but rather “just in case.” He did not elaborate.

Sim Tack, a senior analyst for private intelligence firm Stratfor, said the Japanese batteries are designed for protecting the area where they are deployed, “(they are) not meant to shoot missiles out of the sky as they pass over Japan at high altitude.”

“So unless those North Korean missiles were to fall short, the Patriots shouldn’t have a function to serve in this particular case,” he said.
Japanese Ballistic Missile Defense Scenario

The SDF spokesman said the country’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system was deployed in the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, but would not give a specific location.

Aegis is able to track 100 missiles simultaneously and fire interceptors to take out an enemy’s ballistic projectiles.

In South Korea, where both the military and civilians are used to facing threats from North Korea, Defense Minister Song Young-moo warned the country’s armed forces “to maintain full readiness” to “immediately punish with powerful force” any action against the South.

“Recently, North Korea made its habitual absurd remarks that it will turn Seoul into a sea of fire and that it will strike near Guam,” Song said according to ministry official. “North Korea raising tension (on the Peninsula) is a serious challenge against the South Korean-US alliance and the international community.”

Meanwhile, US-South Korean joint military exercises are due to begin later this month. The annual exercises, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, are expected to run from August 21 to 31.

Calls for calm

Chinese President Xi Jinping and other world leaders have called for calm as both Pyongyang and Washington upped their saber-rattling rhetoric.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump doubled down on his statement that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang continued its threats, saying in a tweet that “military solutions” were “locked and loaded” for use against North Korea.

According to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xi told Trump in a call between the two leaders Saturday all “relevant parties parties should exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that would escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described escalation as “the wrong answer,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Trump’s statements were “very worrying.”

Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English criticized Trump’s “fire and fury” comments as “not helpful in an environment that’s very tense.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the international community to work with North Korea to “resume the path of dialogue without conditions,” following a call with Trump Saturday.

Washington has previously said it will consider talks with Pyongyang if it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons program, a pre-condition North Korean officials have described as a non-starter.

Guam waits for news

At a church in central Guam Sunday, parishioners sang “Lord, we pray for world peace” after discussing the potential North Korean threat.

“There’s a lot of disbelief going on, there’s a lot of anxiety,” Father Paul Gofigan told CNN after the mass.

Gofigan said there is not a lot of panic in Guam, and that people’s faith — the island has been overwhelmingly Catholic since the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 17th century– has been on display in recent days.

“Faith is so deeply rooted into our culture,” he said.

The territory’s governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, said he spoke with Trump and the President’s chief of staff, John Kelly, on Saturday.

“Both assured me that the people of Guam are safe,” Calvo wrote on Facebook. “In the President’s words they are behind us ‘1,000 percent.’ As the head of the Government of Guam, I appreciate their reassurances that my family, my friends, everyone on this island, are all safe.”

As an unincorporated US territory, citizens of Guam cannot vote in general elections. The island is also home to a large US military presence, a fact that has led to tension with some local residents, particularly those of the indigenous Chamorro community.

“Nobody really deserves to be caught in the middle of these games,” said Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, an activist who campaigns for a lowered military presence.

“You’re playing with people’s lives. We just want peace, we just want to continue to enjoy our lives here.”

 

Defying Trump, Putin puts North Korea ties before missile threat

MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) – In retrospect, said Vladimir Bogdanov, it was not the best time to start the first passenger-ship service between Russia and North Korea shortly before Kim Jong Un shocked the world by announcing he’s successfully tested a missile capable of striking the US mainland.

“We were in a hurry, thinking we’d be too late. We should have slowed down,” said Bogdanov, who’s organised nine trips since May between Russia’s far east port of Vladivostok and Rajin in North Korea’s Rason special economic zone.

“Still, there’s no turning back” for the service, which is loss-making so far after filling at best a quarter of its 193 places each time, he said.

The North Korean ferry, the Mangyongbong, is docked in the port of the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia, May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev.

Economic ties between Russia and North Korea, which share a narrow land border, are similarly beleaguered, with trade down for a third year to just US$77 million (S$105 million) in 2016, according to the Russian customs service.

While the volume is small, it’s becoming a point of tension between President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump, who’s pressing Russia and other powers to ramp up opposition to the Communist regime’s nuclear-missile programme. Russia regards the trade relationship as a means to safeguard its position with Kim in diplomacy to try to defuse the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

North Korean Workers’ Party Secretary Choe Ryong-hae in Moscow in November 2016.

“We can’t afford to argue with North Korea because it will completely cast Russia to the sidelines,” said Georgy Toloraya, head of the Russian Academy of Science’s Center for Asian Strategy.

“Our interests will not be considered” if North Korea sees Russia siding with the U.S., he said.

Just as with Iran, when Russia maintained ties amid U.S. and European Union pressure on Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, Putin’s unwilling to isolate North Korea completely. He opposes tougher sanctions because he believes they won’t affect the North Korean leadership, said two senior Kremlin officials, who asked not to be identified discussing internal policy.

The U.S. is pressing Russia to end a programme for taking 30,000 to 50,000 North Korean migrant workers, in order to “deprive Kim Jong Un of all his money,” Toloraya said.

“This is what they demand from Russia right now, very actively.”

Any country that hosts North Korean workers “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime” that’s “a global threat,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after Kim announced the successful missile test on July 4. Some US officials say it could conduct another missile test to mark the July 27 anniversary of the end of Korean War.

“Russia has never been a supporter of dialogue by sanctions,” which is a “futile approach,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in April. That position hasn’t changed after Putin and Trump met at this month’s Group of 20 summit, he said.

US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB/Getty Images.

While Trump and Putin had “a pretty good exchange on North Korea,” they differ in tactics and pace for dealing with the threat, Tillerson said after the Hamburg talks.

Russia, China Russia and China, which is North Korea’s closest ally and accounted for nearly 90 per cent of its US$6 billion trade last year, urged restraint and renewed dialogue in a joint statement after the missile test. Kim boasted he’d send more “gifts” to the U.S., which held joint drills with South Korea in response.

Russia and China blocked US-led efforts to expand penalties against North Korea in a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the missile test. While Trump has accused China of doing too little to pressure its neighbor, officials in Beijing said they’ve been “strictly abiding” by UN sanctions and that imports from North Korea fell 13.2 per cent to US$880 million in the first six months of 2017 compared to a year earlier.

“No one has any real leverage on North Korea to convince them to give up nuclear weapons, including the Chinese,” Alexander Gabuev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said. Kim’s regime may earn US$30-US$50 million a year from the migrant workers, who labor in remote Russian forest camps or on construction sites, he said.

DPRK-Russia-trade-2015.

Russian imports from North Korea slumped to just US$421,000 in the first quarter of 2017 from the same period last year, while exports, mainly of foodstuffs and fuel, more than doubled to US$31.4 million, according to customs service data.

Nobody knows the real level of trade since many goods go via third countries, though it may be worth $500 million, according to Toloraya.

Migrant workers take the boat between Vladivostok and Rajin alongside Russian and Chinese visitors, according to Bogdanov, who said his business was contracted to run the route by a Hong Kong-registered company through an entity in North Korea that he didn’t identify. The service may break even in a few months and will continue even amid the U.S. demands for isolating North Korea, he said.

“We’re not afraid of Trump,” said Bogdanov. “We see the unanimity of Russia and China in pursuing the route to peace. And our poorly-painted little ship is also a path of peace.”

Source: The Straits Times.

North Korea is preparing to launch another missile

Credit: The Telegraph

US intelligence believes North Korea may be setting up for another missile test, possibly as soon as tomorrow.

A US defense official told AFP the latest test could happen as soon as tomorrow, the Victory Day public holiday in North Korea, but other sources say it is likely “within the next two weeks”.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Seoul “had seen North Korea moving transporter erector launchers carrying ICBM launch tubes in North Pyongan province”.

CNN reports US satellites detected new imagery and radar emissions which indicate testing of components and missile control facilities.

Yonhap also reported an 1,800-ton North Korean submarine was spotted in the Sea of Japan which “may be collecting data” to prepare for a test-launch from the North’s largest submarine.

The test will likely be for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or intermediate range missile test. North Korea successfully launched an ICBM on July 4 which had the range to hit Alaska or northern Australia.

Two weeks later, North Korea celebrated the test with a giant concert featuring pyrotechnics, an orchestra, and a simulation video of its missile destroying the entire US mainland.

North Korea has already tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile near the Sinpo South Shipyard, early in July 2017.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly claimed it was a gift to the “American bastards”.

While Moscow denied the launch was of an ICBM, China has spent the past three weeks negotiating with the US over possible sanctions it might impose on the Hermit Kingdom.

It has recently significantly ramped up the defence brigade along its 1400km border with North Korea, implementing 24-hour video surveillance and building bunkers to protect from possible nuclear or chemical attacks.

Source: Business Insider Australia.

 

Special Ops Capabilities Relevant Around the World, Commander Says

 

Special operations forces are relevant to most operations the U.S. military is involved with and are a good return on the investment, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado yesterday.  

Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge interviewed Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III for the forum and he used the occasion to debunk some myths about the command, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

“We are not the world’s cop, we are not a panacea, we don’t do anything by ourselves and we aren’t doing things that aren’t highly supervised, there is no off the reservation activities,” Thomas said.

But special operations forces have been at the heart of most operations against violent extremism, he said, and have been key to turning the tide against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Qaida wherever these groups raise the ugly heads.

“We are relevant to most if not all the national security challenges,” the general said.

The command consumes about 2 percent of the DoD budget and has about 2 percent of the personnel in the department. Some 8,000 special operators are in 80 countries around the world.

The question he gets most often — and Herridge asked a version of it — is whether special operations forces are being overused or overextended? “We are actively trying to work our way out of a job, whether that be in Afghanistan or against ISIS,” he said.

In Afghanistan, the general said, “we’re anxious to finish there. We’re anxious to win.”

Not the Time to Relax

That said, Socom is working with indigenous forces, proxies, allies and conventional U.S. forces to leverage special operations capabilities.

Thomas stressed that the force is having successes, but now is not the time to let up on the pressure being placed on enemy forces. He said the lesson from the Osama bin Laden operation in 2011 was, as good as it was to kill the al-Qaida leader, “if you don’t dismantle the whole network — if you don’t address the ideology — you’ve just killed one guy.”

The territory that ISIS controls is shrinking by the day and Syrian Democratic Forces are closing on Raqqa, the so-called capital of the ISIS caliphate. Thomas said he does not know if ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive, but if he is not dead “there is not a safe place for him on this Earth. We absolutely dismantled his network; everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everyone who stepped to the plate following [him] — dead or gone. Down through a network where we have killed, at a conservative estimate, 60,000 of his followers — his army.”

Baghdadi declared the caliphate and placed his army on the battlefield “and we went to war with it,” the general said.

Mosul has been liberated, but it is still “dicey” in the old city, he said. There are still pockets of ISIS fighters in Tal Afar and in western Iraq. “We are pursuing these people as hard as we can to affect the physical aspect of the caliphate while we deal with the harder part — the ideological basis of it,” he said.

Coordinating Authority

Socom is the DoD coordinating authority for transregional terrorism and has been for going on two years, the general said. “This was a role and process that didn’t exist,” he said. “It tied together our disparate DoD efforts.”

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, commander of, Joint Special Operations Command, participates in a riverine demonstration with members of Special Boat Team 22 at the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School in Mississippi, March 12, 2015. Thomas now commands U.S. Special Operations Command. Navy photo by Seaman Richard Miller.

Previously, Army Gen. Joe Votel would handle special operations in the Central Command region, and Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser would handle Africa Command and Navy Adm. Harry Harris would handle Pacific Command. “They were good, focused activities but without any synchronization at the DoD level,” Thomas said. “We were thrust into that role.”

He said he is not sitting at MacDill moving special operators around the globe, but the change enables the command “to agitate or drive an assessment at the senior DoD level of what are we trying to do, how well are we doing it, and what do we need to change in terms of strategy and resourcing.”

Previously, the only person in the department who could do such a thing was the defense secretary.

He said his mission objectives from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have changed. “It used to be ‘Defeat ISIS,’” he said. “It is now, ‘Annihilate ISIS.’ [Mattis] put a non-doctrinal term out there to amp up the volume a bit, and we all got the message.”

Thomas wants Socom to be more agile and more networked.

He said the command has its eyes on Iran and its stated goal of building a Shia crescent through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon. Iranian officials are all throughout that area now, the general said, adding that they bear special attention.

ISIS is trying to export its “brand” through the world and they seized on Libya as a failed state, which, with its gap in governance could serve as a foothold in the region. In fact, ISIS leaders declared Libya a province in the caliphate, he said, and at its high-water mark in the country had around 2,000 fighters in and around the seaside city of Sirte. “They don’t exist anymore,” Thomas noted.

Special operations forces worked through proxies and surrogates to eliminate the ISIS threat in that area, he said. Still, the general said, Libya is another place that bears watching as some of the fighters escaped to southern Libya and are looking for a time and place to return.

The command is also invested in deterring Russia and there are special operators working with all the nations bordering Russia, Thomas said. “The people [of those nations] enjoy their freedom and want to keep it,” he added.

Korea

Herridge asked about the command’s work on the Korean Peninsula. Thomas objected to the argument that there is no military option against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he continues to build a nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. “There is always a military option,” he said. “That’s why you pay $600 billion a year. It is an ugly, ugly option, but you cannot play elements of power and then discount that there is no option.”

“People say that Kim Jong Un can only put a warhead the size of the Hiroshima bomb on a missile,” he continued. “That’s not comforting to me. Everything I am hearing … is that he and the regime are inextricably tied to their nuclear program.”

For the future, the general wants Socom to be able to give decision-makers more options to choose from when a crisis develops. “My biggest concern is the need to transform,” Thomas said.

The general spoke of a senior private industry executive who visited the command and told him that though the command is getting the right people and prototyping new capabilities well, “you suck at deep learning.”

“We are still trying to digest terabytes of data, and this company is way beyond that,” Thomas said. “If we can master that, we become Socom on steroids in terms of Seeing threats, seeing opportunities [and] applying our special capabilities.”

Source: United States Department of Defense

North Korea’s Nuclear Programme, less than the cost of one US Aircraft Carrier

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — When North Korea decided to go nuclear, it committed to a huge investment in a program that would bring severe sanctions and eat up precious resources that could have been spent boosting the nation’s quality of life.

Money well spent?

Leader Kim Jong Un seems to think so.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs have without doubt come at a high cost, but the North has managed to march ever closer to having an arsenal capable of attacking targets in the region and – as demonstrated by its July 4 test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile – the United States’ mainland.

Good, solid figures for just about anything in North Korea are hard to find. So what follows should be taken as ballpark guesses, at best.

But here’s a look at how much that arsenal might cost Pyongyang, and why Kim might think that’s the price he must pay to survive.

THE NUCLEAR PRICETAG

South Korea has estimated the cost of the North’s nuclear program at $1 billion to $3 billion, with the higher number combining nuclear and missile development.

For context: one nuclear-powered Virginia class attack submarine costs the United States Navy about $2.5 billion. The USS Gerald Ford, America’s newest aircraft carrier, has an $8 billion price tag, not counting development costs.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense estimated the cost of the first 31 ballistic missiles Kim Jong Un test-launched from when he took power in late 2011 until July last year at $97 million. It put the price of each Scud at $1 million to $2 million; each Musudan from $3 million to $6 million; and each submarine-launched ballistic missile at $5 million to $10 million. Up until July last year, Kim had launched 16 Scuds, six Rodongs, six Musudans and three SLBMs.

Kim Jong-Un waving after the military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.
AFP

Including the launch this month of its first ICBM, North Korea has conducted 11 tests, launching 17 missiles, so far this year.

North Korea’s total defense spending is believed to be around $10 billion a year, or somewhere between a fifth to a quarter of its gross domestic product (about $30 billion to $40 billion).

WHERE DOES IT GET THE MONEY?

That’s a matter of heated debate. But the $2 billion it made in exports in 2015 would not begin to cover it. North Korea is also believed to have relied on foreign currency sent by tens of thousands of laborers dispatched abroad, as well as exports of illegal weapons and cybercrime.

Its military-spending-to-GDP ratio far exceeds any other country, but in monetary terms it spends much less than its neighbors, including South Korea and Japan, and its budget is absolutely minuscule when compared to the United States.

Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said that if the South Korean nuclear-program estimate is correct it would be a significant – but not necessarily destabilizing – draw on the North’s economy.

“This is expensive, but probably a cost the country can absorb without fomenting much resentment among North Korean “elites,” he said. “In fact, North Korean elites would probably feel less secure without a nuclear program even if its costs relative to the economy as a whole were higher.”

Melvin said the economic situation for common North Koreans would have to be in near ruin, with domestic resentment among elites reaching dangerous levels, before North Korea would reconsider its nuclear program.

“Current signals indicate that North Korea is nowhere near this breaking point,” he said.

BURDEN OR BARGAIN?

The bottom line is that regime survival is Kim Jong Un’s primary objective.

There is no way North Korea could keep up with its richer and more technologically advanced neighbors in a conventional arms race.

While certainly expensive, the North’s nuclear strategy is in one sense a potential source of savings – once developed, maintaining a viable nuclear deterrent is less costly than paying for its conventional, million-man military. Once it has reliable nuclear arms, Pyongyang could reduce its spending on other areas of the military and redirect those savings toward the domestic economy.

It’s possible Kim Jong Un has already begun doing that.

Officially announced budgets have shown increases in funds for the public good, and Kim has adopted as his guiding policy a strategy of simultaneously developing the country’s nuclear arsenal and the national economy. Outside estimates indicate the North’s GDP has been growing slowly or at least holding steady since he became leader, and there has been visible growth in construction and infrastructure projects, along with the production of consumer goods, over the past five years.

The flip side is the harder to quantify loss in revenue from trade and friendly relationships with the outside world due to sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to denuclearize.

Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him of Twitter at EricTalmadge and Instagram.

Source: Associated Press.

Military Backs Up Diplomatic, Economic Tools Against North Korea, Mattis Says

The United States military stands ready to provide options to President Donald J. Trump, but diplomatic and economic efforts remain the tools of choice to convince North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile programs, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters here today.

“The president’s been very clear, and secretary of state’s been very clear that we are leading with diplomatic and economic efforts,” Mattis said during an impromptu news conference in the Pentagon. “The military remains ready in accordance with our alliance with Japan, with Korea.”

The North Korean launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4 is a very serious escalation and provocation, Mattis said, and also an affront to the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Diplomatic Effort

The secretary stressed that the effort against North Korea is purely diplomatically led. The weapons of choice are economic sanctions, but these will be buttressed by military capabilities. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the administration point man with regard to North Korea. “We stand ready to provide options if they are necessary,” Mattis said.

Diplomacy with regard to North Korea has not failed, Mattis said. He cited Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, saying America and South Korea have exercised extreme self-restraint in avoiding war. He noted the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, the sinking of a South Korean ship earlier that year and other provocations at sea, on land and in cyberspace. “Our self-restraint holds, and diplomatic efforts remain underway as we speak,” he said.

The United States is working with allies to influence North Korea. U.S. officials are also working with China – North Korea’s benefactor and largest trading partner – to place more pressure on North Korean leaders to stop the nuclear and missile programs.

Launch Analysis Continues

The secretary said the Defense Department is still analyzing intelligence from the North Korean launch. “It clearly had a booster, which was a new development on a previous missile,” he said.

Mattis said he was not surprised that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched the missile. “We assume these sorts of things from him,” the secretary said. “Right now that’s why we’re called … the sentinels for this country. We were on duty. … The radars were up and operating. We knew it as soon as he fired it that it had been fired — literally.”

U.S. Department of Defense, By Jim Garamone.