Top Pentagon leaders are warning that the long war is going to get even longer.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told Senate leaders on Wednesday that even after ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq, U.S. troops will be stationed in the region for at least a few years afterward.
“I believe it’s in our national interest that we keep Iraqi security forces in a position to keep our mutual enemies on their back foot,” Mattis told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Defense.
“I don’t see any reason to pull out again and face the same lesson,” he added, referencing the removal of all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011.
Though President Barack Obama in 2008 campaigned on a promise to pull troops out of Iraq, the move has been criticized by conservatives in the years since as helping fuel the rise of ISIS.
In 2014, as ISIS militants seized vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, one senior military officer told Business Insider the rise of the terror group in the wake of U.S. troop departures was inevitable.
“We said we won some success but this is reversible,” the retired senior U.S. military officer said, on condition of anonymity. “So what we’re seeing now is exactly what we forecasted.”
So far, Mattis seems more comfortable placing troops closer to harm’s way than his predecessor.
Though the Pentagon has long downplayed the role of U.S. ground troops in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, recent deployments of many more “boots on the ground” suggest they may be front-and-center in the coming months.
Green Berets flood a room while practicing close quarters combat techniques. (3rd Special Forces Group)
In addition to roughly 500 U.S. special operations forces, the military has sent conventional ground troops inside Syria, to include a contingent of Army Rangers, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, and artillerymen from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines to provide fire support just 20-30 miles from Raqqa, the ISIS capital.
“The Iraqi security forces will need that kind of support for years to come,” Dunford told the Senate committee.
It’s ironic that the Coast Guard’s derogatory nickname is “puddle pirates” since it’s one of the few agencies in the U.S. that actually gets called on to fight modern pirates.
Anti-piracy, along with anti-narcotics missions, are often handled by the Coast Guard’s Law Enforcement Detachments, or LEDETS, and Tactical Law Enforcement Teams, or TACLETs.
These Guardians are deployed on Coast Guard cutters as well as U.S. or allied Navy ships. From there, they are sent to board and search vessels where the crew are suspected of committing a crime, generally piracy or the smuggling or drugs, humans, or money.
Here’s how the Coast Guard catches the bad guys on the high seas:
1. Once Navy or Coast Guard intelligence has identified and approached a suspect vessel, LEDET or TACLETs move in.
2. The law enforcement teams are vulnerable while bunched up on their craft, so they have to approach quickly and carefully.
3. The team members control the suspect crew while they search for evidence of illegal activity. If nothing is found, the crew is released.
4. In this case, the crew was arrested on piracy charges and their craft was destroyed. Ships can also be towed to port when necessary.
5. Larger vessels can pose a greater danger since the teams are forced to scale the side of a potentially hostile craft.
6. The Coast Guard practices with partner law enforcement agencies and other military forces to make the boarding as quick and safe as possible.
7. If the crew fights the boarding, the Coast Guard TACLET or LEDET members are prepared to defend themselves and force their way in.
8. Larger vessels allow more room to hide illegal activity, but the Coast Guard has learned to search thoroughly.
9. They’ve had a lot of experience, after all.
10. Particularly enterprising smugglers have created special vessels, like “Go-fast boats” or submarines to smuggle illicit goods.
11. The Coast Guard maintains mobile labs that can be used to test suspect substances. (Like powdered substances hidden in garbage bags crammed into secret compartments are ever flour.)
12. Any evidence collected is moved off the vessel to facilitate prosecution later.
13. When the Coast Guard cutters return from long tours, the total evidence collected can be literal tons of drugs.
The Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013 killed three and wounded 264 others. The attack was committed by two American brothers of Chechen descent who set off a couple of pressure cooker explosives they learned to make from an English language al-Qaeda magazine. One of the brothers died after the other brother ran him over with a stolen SUV following a shootout with law enforcement. The other brother is in prison, awaiting execution.
At least 14 of the the bombing victims required amputations. Anyone who undergoes amputations of limbs for any reason will go through the five psychological stages of grief, but 20-22 percent of all amputees will experience some form of post-traumatic stress, according to studies from the National Institute of Health. For the civilian victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, their stress is coupled by the two explosions, just 12 seconds apart, that killed three, injured scores more, and took one or more of their limbs.
The aforementioned studies show the ability to cope with an amputation be affected by pain, level of disability, the look of the amputated limb and associated prosthetics, and the presence of social supports. The 14 amputee survivors of the bombing received a ready network of support from wounded warriors, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who lost limbs during their service. Within days of the attack, injured veterans arrived in Boston to meet the survivors.
“We felt as amputees compelled to get out here,” said Captain Cameron West, a Marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan. “It won’t define them as a person … soon all of them will be able to do everything they could before the terror attack.”
“Military combat veterans are not the only victims of PTSD,” said Dr. Philip Leveque, a pharmacology researcher, WWII veteran, and author of “General Patton’s Dogface Soldier of WWII.” “Civilians in a horrific event like those in Boston will not only be victims of these events but may be mistreated by their physicians with morphine-like drugs, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs, which can cause adverse side effects, including suicide.”
Chris Claude is a 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran from Pennsylvania. He met with marathon amputees and told the Associated Press it was his chance to provide the kind of support he got after the amputation of his right leg following a 2005 bomb blast in Iraq. B.J. Ganem, a Marine who lost his left leg in Afghanistan, said all he saw was resilience. The two groups came together again later in 2013, at the New England Patriots home opener. They were honored on the field together before the game.
“I like the idea of the amputees coming out on the field together,” Claude said. “It’s another way for people in the crowd to see the human spirit can’t be broken.”
On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos began an air assault into a mountain fortress above the Shok Valley.
Six and a half hours later, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, over 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured, and eleven men had earned some of the nation’s highest awards for valor. This is what happened.
Entering Shok Valley
The assault was to capture leaders in Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin, a regional insurgent group in Afghanistan. The targets were holed up in a mountain top village surrounded by farm terraces and tall cliffs, providing tough ground for an assaulting force to cover. The village itself was made of strong, multistory buildings that would provide defenders cover while allowing them to fire out.
The American and Afghan force flew to the valley in helicopters. Their initial plan called for a quick insertion close to the village so they could assault while they still had the element of surprise. Their first landing zone was no good though, and so they were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. The delay allowed insurgent forces to set up an ambush from the high ground.
Combat breaks out
After the helicopters departed, enemy fighters directed automatic weapon and rocket fire on the American and Afghan National Army soldiers. Their interpreter was killed almost immediately and the communications sergeant, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, received a life-threatening wound to his leg. He continued fighting, attempting to suppress some of the incoming fire.
Meanwhile, the assault team had already reached the village, and so found themselves cut off when the forces behind them began taking fire. Despite the precarious position he and the lead Afghan commandos were in, Sgt. David Sanders began relaying the sources of incoming fire to the Air Force joint tactical air controller on the mission.
The mission commander, Capt. Kyle Walton, told an Army journalist later that year about the initial bombings on the target. They were all danger close, meaning friendly forces were within range of the bombs’ blast.
“I was standing next to the combat controller, and when we got to a place where we could talk, he called in close air support, and the F-15s rolled in immediately. I knew my guys were up there, and I know that when you call in danger close air, you are probably going to get injured or killed. I called back to Sanders and asked if he was too close. He said, ‘Bring it anyway.’ Bombs started exploding everywhere. When I called to see if he was still alive, all I could hear him saying was, ‘Hit them again.’ ”
The Air Force JTAC, Airman Zachary Rhyner, would go on to call over 70 danger close missions that day, using eight Air Force planes and four Army attack helicopters to achieve effects on the target.
Three-story explosion and sniper warfare
As the battle continued to rage, both sides were using controlled, focused fire to wound and kill enemies. But a massive explosion after an American bomb hit a three-story building in the village brought on a brief lull in the fighting.
“Good guy or bad guy, you’re going to stop when you see that,” Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant, told the Army. “It reminded me of the videos from 9/11 — everything starts flushing at you, debris starts falling — and everything gets darker.”
The Americans and Afghan commandos used this time to consolidate some of their forces.
Both before and after the explosion, snipers on each side were playing a key role. For the Americans, one of their top assets was Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, a Special Forces weapons sergeant.
Near the command node, Howard was well-positioned to see the enemy fighters draw close to Walton and the JTAC. To prevent them being killed or captured, Walton stepped away from his position and moved into the open to engage the advancing fighters. He halted their advance, allowing Rhyner to continue calling in bombs.
Rhyner’s bombs would also be instrumental in protecting the command node. He sometimes had to order bombs within 100 meters of his and Walton’s position.
Planning to leave
American forces and Afghan commandos had more problems as the day wore on. The weather at the outset of the mission had been tricky, but the team was getting reports that a dust storm was getting worse and would stop air support before nightfall. That would leave them without bombs, helicopters, or an exit strategy. Meanwhile, surveillance platforms showed another 200 enemy fighters moving to the battlefield.
Walton had requested medical evacuation multiple times, but enemy fire made it impossible. And with six seriously wounded men, a closing window to exit the battlefield, and the serious danger of being overrun, Walton began looking at pulling the team out. But there was a problem. The initial plans had called for the team to leave by descending back down the terraces, a route now closed due to intense enemy fire.
Sanders had managed to break out of his besieged position in the village when another green beret forced a route open. Now, Walton asked him to recon a route down the sheer cliffs to the north of the village.
Sanders told the commander that the route was bad and it was possible that some climbers might break their backs or necks attempting it, but they’d probably live. The situation was so dire, Walton approved it as an exit strategy.
Leaving Shok Valley under heavy fire
Team Sergeant Master Sgt. Scott Ford led the organization at the top of the cliffs. He had less wounded team members carry the more seriously wounded down. One team member made the climb while carrying his leg that had been amputated by a sniper round early in the battle. Others were nursing wounds sustained from both insurgent fire and the effects of all the “danger close” bomb drops.
Ford was defending the top of the cliff other soldiers were climbing down when he was struck in the chest plate by a sniper round. He jumped up and continued fighting, but he was struck again. This time, his left arm was nearly amputated. Ford then finally began his own climb down the mountain, continuing to lead his men as he did so.
Howard, the sniper from above, stayed until all the other Americans and the Afghan commandos had left the mountain. He defended the top of the cliffs with his last magazine before pulling out.
One Afghan commando and an interpreter died, but all of the Americans survived the battle. The Army estimated the insurgents suffered over 150 dead and an untold number of wounded, according to an Army article. Eight insurgents were captured.
After the battle
Many of the wounded members of the team returned to service, including Ford and Sgt. 1st Class John Walding, the team member who lost his leg early on and carried it down the cliffs. Walding is attempting to return to his team, an ambition he describes near the end of this Army video about the battle. He later became the first amputee to graduate the Special Forces Sniper Course.
In a ceremony on Dec. 12, 2008, 10 members of the team were awarded Silver Stars. Rhyner was awarded the Air Force Cross during a separate ceremony in 2009.
Discipline, self-control, and honor are just some of the defining characteristics of a U.S. Marine who serves as a member of the 24-man silent drill team. Also known as the “Marching Twenty-Four,” the drill team’s function is to demonstrate the outstanding professionalism of the Marine Corps.
In 1948, they first performed at the Sunset Parades at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Their perfectly executed movements received such an amazing response from the crowd, the drill team was born.
Serving on the team requires extensive discipline, so finding new recruits is a challenge.
The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon executes their refined movements with hand-polished, 10.5 pounds, M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets during the Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Each fall, the drill team prospects are hand-selected from the School of Infantry located in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. After a detailed interview process and rifle drill audition conducted by experienced personnel, those Marines who are selected are assigned a position and will serve a two-year ceremonial tour.
In addition to their ceremonial duties, the drill team members train alongside infantry Marines in the field to maintain their skills during the offseason.
When experienced team members request to move up in ranks and become rifle inspectors, they will go through a series of inspections graded by rifle inspectors who served in the previous season.
The best-of-the-best in the US and Russian militaries look eerily similar to each other both in appearance and in tactics.
The US Army Special Forces has some of the smartest and most lethal fighters in the world, which could explain why Russia has increasingly modeled its own Special Forces — or Spetsnaz — off its American counterparts.
Those Russian Special Forces most recently infiltrated and took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and they are now operating on the ground in Syria. And according to a US military official who spoke with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, they are practically indistinguishable on the battlefield.
That’s not an accident. According to the Journal, Russia’s military chief used a meeting with US Special Operations Command to learn more about how the US operates, in order to more closely mirror his force in Russia. Moscow has also benefited from a framework of understanding signed between the two nations that offered military-to-military exchanges and operational events, orientation at the West Point military academy for Russian cadets, and sharing of ideas among both countries’ combined arms academies.
We decided to look at photos of Spetsnaz in action, along with US Special Forces. It’s sometimes hard to spot the difference.
After US Army soldiers finish their roughly year-long training to become Special Forces-qualified, they don the distinctive green beret for the first time.
Their counterparts in Russia do much the same, though their head gear is crimson. Russia’s Spetsnaz unit modeled their competition for the crimson beret from the US, after a former commander read a book by a former US special forces soldier.
The resemblance between the two nations’ special forces don’t stop there. This US Special Forces soldier looks pretty similar…
… To his Russian counterpart, right down to the helmet, tactical gear, and camouflage uniform pattern. The two nations do, however, use different weapons systems, with the US favoring the M4 rifle, and Russia going with its AK-style.
“From the helmets to the kit, they look almost identical,” a US military official told the Wall Street Journal recently, of Russia’s special forces.
In a profile piece on Joseph Gordon-Levitt from The Guardian, the actor revealed that he flew to Russia for a secret meeting with Edward Snowden in preparation for playing the NSA whistle-blower in the upcoming movie “Snowden,” directed by Oliver Stone (opening in 2016).
Gordon-Levitt said the motivation behind the meeting was to “understand this person that I was going to play, observing both his strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
The two met for four hours and though the actor wanted to tape record the meeting, it was advised that he did not.
In fact, according to piece, Snowden’s lawyers didn’t want Gordon-Levitt to admit the meeting had taken place.
The actor said that what he took most from the meeting with Snowden was he completely agrees with the actions he took.
“I left knowing without a doubt that what [Snowden] did, he did because he believed it was the right thing to do. That he believed it would help the country he loves,” said Gordon-Levitt.
“Now, as he would say, it’s not for him to say whether it was right or wrong. That’s really for people to decide on their own, and I would encourage anybody to decide that on their own. I don’t want to be the actor guy who’s like, ‘You should listen to me! What he did was right!’ I don’t think that’s my place. Even though that is what I believe — that what he did was right.”
“Snowden” is based on Luke Hardin’s book “The Snowden Files” and Anatoly Kucherena’s “Time of the Octopus.”
Along with Gordon-Levitt, the film stars Shailene Woodley as Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend, Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald, and Melissa Leo as Laura Poitras. Greenwald was the journalist and Poitras the filmmaker Snowden leaked the classified documents to.
Nicolas Cage, Scott Eastwood, and Timothy Olyphant also star.
Gordon-Levitt will next been seen in the Robert Zemeckis film “The Walk,” in which he’ll be playing another real-life figure, Philippe Petit. The film recounts Petit’s infamous tightrope walk across New York City’s World Trade Towers in 1974.
The Army has released an image taken by a combat photographer moments before she was killed in an explosion during a 2013 live-fire training exercise in eastern Afghanistan.
Spc. Hilda I. Clayton, a visual information specialist assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), was killed while photographing a live-fire training exercise on July 2 in Laghman Province. Four Afghan National Army soldiers were also killed when a mortar tube accidentally exploded.
One of the Afghan soldiers killed was a photojournalist whom Clayton had been training.
The primary mission of Combat Camera soldiers is to accompany soldiers on deployments to document the history of combat operations.
“Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts,” the Army said in a statement.
Clayton’s name has since been added to the Defense Information School Hall of Heroes at Fort Meade. The award for the winner of Combat Camera’s annual competition was also named after her.
“The Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM) Competition consists of five days of events to test joint service combat camera personnel on their physical and technical skills,” the Army said.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Staff Sgt. Brian Alfano, a survival, evasion, resistance and escape instructor with the 103rd Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing, demonstrates an overt method for marking a drop zone during a bundle drop training flight at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., Jan. 19, 2016.
First Lt. Matthew Sanders, a 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, prepares for a combat sortie in an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2016. Airmen assigned to the 421st EFS, known as the “Black Widows,” are deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support missions.
A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), completes a routine safety measure in preparation for a static line jump from a Ch-47 Chinook helicopter assigned to the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, on to St. Mere Eglise Drop Zone on Fort Bragg, N.C., Jan. 6, 2016.
Soldiers, assigned to the US Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, conduct a training jump over Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., Jan. 19, 2016.
Soldiers assigned to 2d Cavalry Regiment, United States Army Europe – USAREUR, conducts convoy operations with Stryker armored combat vehicles during Exercise Allied Spirit IV at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany, Jan. 20, 2016.
CHANGI, Singapore (Jan. 13, 2016) Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class James Strotler secures a bolt in place for the retractable bit for towing aboard USS Fort Worth (LCS 3). Currently on a rotational deployment in support of the Asia-Pacific Rebalance, Fort Worth is a fast and agile warship tailor-made to patrol the region’s littorals and work hull-to-hull with partner navies, providing 7th Fleet with the flexible capabilities it needs now and in the future.
GULF OF OMAN (Jan. 14, 2016) Marines and sailors aboard the USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) unload boxes during a replenishment at sea in the Gulf of Oman. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is embarked on the Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Group and is deployed to maintain regional security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
U.S. Marines with Maritime Raid Force, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct a deck shoot during Sustainment Exercise aboard the USS Boxer, January 18, 2016. SUSTEX is designed to reinforce and refine the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group/MEU’s execution of mission essential tasks in preparation for their upcoming deployment.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Hector de Jesus
Marines with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose MAGTF – CR – CC, recover a simulated casualty as part of a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise at an Undisclosed Location in Southwest Asia Jan. 12, 2016. SPMAGTF-CR-CC is ready to respond to any crisis response mission in theater to include the employment of a TRAP force.
The HC144 Ocean Sentry prepares for an evening training flight at Air Station Cape Cod. Frequent night flights like this one allow crews to remain proficient and ready to respond no matter the time of day or night.
Air Station Cape Cod is the only airfield whose maintenance and operation is entirely run by the Coast Guard. As a result, planes and helicopters aren’t the only heavy machinery that we get to manage!
The language requiring the draft for women was added in committee and received little debate on the Senate floor, but has created a firestorm of controversy on and off Capitol Hill. It comes as the military services welcome women into previously closed ground combat units in keeping with a mandate from Defense Secretary Ash Carter given late last year.
“It is my personal view that based on this lifting of restriction for assigning [job specialties], that every American that is physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller said at the time.
In the House, which previously passed its version of the NDAA, an amendment requiring women to register for the draft passed narrowly with a 32-30 vote, even though its author, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, voted against it.
“I’ve talked to coffeehouse liberals in San Francisco and conservative families who pray three times a day,” Hunter said April 27, as the House Armed Services Committee marked up the bill. “Neither of them want their daughter to be drafted.”
The Senate proposal was hotly debated on the floor June 7 by Republicans Ted Cruz, from Texas, and John McCain, from Arizona.
Cruz complained that the provision including women in the draft entered the bill through committee, rather than in public, open debate.
“I’m the father of two daughters. Women can do anything they set their mind to, and I see that each and every day,” Cruz said. “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little or no sense. It is at minimum a radical proposition. I could not vote for a bill that did so without public debate.”
McCain countered that including women in the draft was a matter of equality.
“Women who I have spoken to in the military overwhelmingly believe that women are not only qualified, but are on the same basis as their male counterparts,” McCain said. “Every leader of the United States military seems to have a different opinion from [Cruz], whose military background is not extensive.”
Currently, U.S. law requires most male citizens and immigrants between the ages of 18 to 25 to register in the selective service system. The Senate NDAA would require all female citizens and U.S. residents who turn 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to register as well.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced an amendment that would have removed the draft language from the bill, but it was unsuccessful. Another Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, filed an amendment that would have gotten rid of the draft altogether, but it too failed to get traction.
The House and Senate must now reconcile their versions of the NDAA in conference before final passage.
Typically, once recruits meet their DIs, they will receive a barrage of easy-to-follow instructions under extreme stress, which causes them to have “brain farts” and screw up.
“I wanted to go home,” a former Marine joked, recalling that first meeting.
Once a recruit gets through the receiving phase of boot camp to Black Friday, it’s easier to make it all the way through the intense training and earn the title of Marine (versus getting sent back home on request).
For many drill instructors, the experience is just as intense, but their training incentive is to produce the best possible Marines before sending them off to their units.
“Here goes another 90-days,” former Marine DI Mark Hamett recalls. “Let’s do this!”
Typically, after the physically demanding introduction, the drill instructors will use their outside voices inside to introduce themselves and inform the recruits, as a whole, what exactly will be expected from them.
“The threat of North Korea is imminent. And it has reached a level that we are very concerned about the consequences of North Korea being allowed to continue on this progress it’s been making on the development of both weapons and delivery systems.”
Nuclear-proliferation experts have told Business Insider that North Korea’s eventual goal for its weapons program is to create an ICBM with a thermonuclear warhead that can reach the U.S. mainland.
North Korea does not yet have that capability, and likely won’t for years, but its latest high-profile tests show steady progress in that direction.
Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, told Business Insider that the world would change if North Korea achieved its goal of building a weapon that could threaten Americans on US soil.
“North Korea has been perceived in the past as engaging in a nuclear-weapons program as a way to trade for concessions from the U.S. and South Korea,” Lamrani said. “But that paradigm doesn’t hold anymore — North Korea decided to invest in a nuclear-missile program not to trade it away, but as the ultimate security guarantee and the ultimate deterrent against outside attacks.”
As it stands, the U.S. and its allies would face a tremendously difficult task in disabling the North Korean nuclear-weapons program, as hundreds of mobile missile launchers scattered across secret locations in a densely forested, mountainous peninsula would make it nightmarishly complicated to remove in one swift blow.
But Lamrani said the ability to threaten the U.S. with not just one but a salvo of nuclear missiles would represent a loss for the U.S. and further limit options for outsiders to influence Kim Jong Un’s regime. North Korea’s latest progress toward this feat has deeply troubled U.S. officials and observers.
“North Korea has made such progress now that the U.S. feels that it does not have time anymore,” Lamrani said. He added that an ICBM in the hands of Kim would mean the U.S. could no longer credibly threaten North Korea with nuclear force, representing a “point of no return” in multilateral relations.
But although a war with North Korea would be disastrous and potentially cost millions of lives, the window for U.S. intervention is closing fast.
If North Korea developed credible ICBMs, as it may in coming years, the U.S. would be left with three options, according to Lamrani:
1. Continue with diplomacy and sanctions while building up ballistic-missile defense.
2. Cave to North Korea’s demands to be seen as a viable state, accept its nuclear program, and recognize the regime internationally.
3. Go to war and risk a nuclear holocaust on U.S. soil, while killing people in North Korea with nuclear arms.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks to top delegates of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang. (KCNA via Agence France-Presse)
The U.S. currently employs the first option simply because it’s the least-worst choice, but Tillerson recently said the US’s “strategic patience” with North Korea had ended.
Additionally, recent reports from Arms Control Wonk and Reuters uncovered a complicated network of businesses and obfuscation that the Kim regime uses to rake in millions by selling military radios and other goods, despite sanctions.
Another Reuters report quoted North Korean officials as saying it did not fear or care about U.S. sanctions and that it was planning a preemptive first strike, while its recent tests suggest it’s closer than ever to being able to overwhelm U.S. missile defenses.
While the U.S. can build up all the defenses it wants, “missile defense is not a surefire way to negate the threat posed by another country’s nuclear-capable ballistic missiles,” Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy and a North Korea expert at the Arms Control Association, told Business Insider in January.
The second option would be to cave to perhaps the most brutal regime on Earth and cement the failure of decades of diplomacy.
The third option is patently unthinkable and unacceptable.
“Every single one of them is not a great option,” Lamrani said.
So as North Korea creeps closer to an ICBM, the U.S. must quickly decide whether to act now or to potentially admit diplomatic defeat down the road.
Upon taking the highest office in the land, President-elect Donald Trump will need to address the growing North Korean missile threat “almost immediately.”
“More often than not, we measure the mettle of presidencies by the unexpected crises that they must deal with,” said Victor Cha, a senior adviser and the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “For President Bush, this was clearly the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which completely changed every element of his presidency. For President-elect Trump, this crisis could very well come from North Korea.”
Speaking on a panel at CSIS’s Global Security Forum, Cha added that the North would “challenge the new administration almost immediately upon taking office.”
The normally aggressive regime has been exceptionally busy in 2016 with an increased tempo in testing. The North has launched 25 ballistic missiles this year and remains the only country to have detonated nuclear devices in this century.
“Every launch that he launches, he learns more. He gets more capability,” retired US Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp, a former commander of US Forces-Korea said during the panel.
“UN Security Council resolutions have been numerous that have told him he cannot do this, and I personally think it’s time to start enforcing this,” Sharp said.
The acceleration and frequency in testing shows not only the North’s nuclear ambitions but also that the rogue nation has developed something of an arsenal.
The following graphic from CSIS’s Missile Defense Project illustrates specifications and ranges of North Korea’s ballistic-missile arsenal.