By Paul McLeary
Talking with Beijing. President Trump and the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un have scaled back the rhetoric in recent days, after a week of sparring over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs that had many fearing the two countries were stumbling toward military conflict.
But things remain dicey. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has spent the last several days in China meeting with military and political leaders, and on Wednesday, will make what the WSJ says is a rare visit “to the Chinese armed-forces command that oversees the territory bordering North Korea, a move experts say suggests Beijing’s displeasure with Pyongyang.”
Dunford and his counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui signed an agreement aimed at improving communication between the their military forces that will “reduce the risk of miscalculation” in the region, according to a Pentagon statement.
Muscle flexing. Tensions have cooled, but are hardly gone. In the coming days, thousands of U.S. and South Korean forces will conduct an annual war game guaranteed to anger the North, which sees such demonstrations as a provocation.
Elsewhere, two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and two Japanese F-15 jet fighters conducted drills southwest of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday. “These training flights with Japan demonstrate the solidarity and resolve we share with our allies to preserve peace and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” the U.S. Air Force said in a statement.
But in a sign of the times, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday said his country can no longer rely on Washington for protection.
Marine General has interesting timing. Just hours after President Donald Trump stunned the country — and his own party — by drawing moral equivalence between Nazi groups marching in Charlottesville and the protesters who clashed with them, Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, delivered a quieter message, tweeting there is “No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.”
More from the NYT: “President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations — equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.
Never has he gone as far in defending their actions as he did during a wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and “Trump/Pence” signs.”
The new drone wars. From the L.A. Times’ W.J. Hennigan: “U.S. drone pilots now routinely launch missiles at what the Pentagon calls “danger-close” distances to proxy ground forces fighting Islamic State in densely populated cities.” U.S special operations forces in Syria often direct airstrikes, but the “danger-close” missions “also require approval from Syrian militia commanders since the missile blasts may put their ground troops at risk.”
To help the drone pilots find targets, some Syrian Democratic Force commanders have been given a device called the ROVER, for remote operated video enhanced receiver. It displays real-time feeds from the cameras and sensors flying above them. “They have access to our video and are able to tell us exactly what to look at,” said one of the drone pilots, who spoke on condition he not be identified. “Because of that, it gives them greater peace of mind and greater confidence as they carry out their missions.”
Mattis’ troop talk. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had some choice words for sailors serving on the submarine USS Kentucky last week when he visited a naval installation in his home state of Washington. He praised them for their service and sacrifice, saying, ”you will have some of the best days of your life and some of the worst days of your life in the U.S. Navy, you know what I mean? That says — that means you’re living. That means you’re living. That means you’re not some pussy sitting on the sidelines, you know what I mean, kind of sitting there saying, ‘Well, I should have done something with my life.’”
More colorful language than we usually see in a Pentagon transcript for sure, but in the end, it was an effort to boost morale among the enlisted ranks, and we think that just maybe, the sailors have heard worse.
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Iran military chief goes to Ankara. (Voice of America)
Islamic State trying to stir it up in Iran. (Reuters)
Iran building long-range rocket factory in Syria. (Reuters)
Syrian Rebels shoot down regime plane. (Reuters)
Taliban sends an open letter to President Trump. (Reuters)
Defense contractors begin early shutdown preparations in case government closes. (Defense One)
Photo Credit: MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AFP/Getty Images