DRILLS: U.S., SOUTH KOREA PRACTICE STRIKING NORTH’S NUCLEAR PLANTS
The United States and South Korea kicked off major military exercises on Monday, including rehearsals of surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities and “decapitation raids” by special forces targeting the North’s leadership.
The drills always elicit an angry response from Pyongyang, but Monday’s statement was particularly ferocious, accusing the United States and South Korea of planning a “beheading operation” aimed at removing Kim Jong Un’s regime. The North Korean army and people “will take military counteraction for preemptive attack so that they may deal merciless deadly blows at the enemies,” the North’s powerful National Defense Commission said in a statement.
The exercises come at a particularly tense time, with the international community — especially the United States and South Korea — looking to punish Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test and missile launch. The United Nations last week imposed its toughest sanctions yet on the North, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye is expected to unveil further, unilateral sanctions on Tuesday.
About 17,000 American forces and 300,000 South Korean personnel — a one-third increase from last spring’s drills — will take part in 11 days of computer-simulated training and eight weeks of field exercises, which will involve ground, air, naval and special operations services.
The exercises will revolve around a wartime plan, OPLAN 5015, adopted by South Korea and the United States last year. The plan has not been made public but, according to reports in the South Korean media, includes a contingency for surgical strikes against the North’s nuclear weapons and missile facilities, as well as “decapitation” raids to take out North Korea’s leaders. The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported that Kim Jong Un would be among them.
The joint forces will also run through their new “4D” operational plan, which details the allies’ preemptive military operations to detect, disrupt, destroy and defend against North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenal, the Yonhap News Agency reported. “The focus of the exercises will be on hitting North Korea’s key facilities precisely,” a military official told the wire service.
Christopher Bush, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea, declined to comment on the reports. “Alliance operational plans are classified, and we aren’t authorized to discuss them for operations security reasons,” he said.
USFK said in a statement that it had informed the North’s Korean People’s Army — through the U.N. Command, which controls the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas — about the exercise dates and “the non-provocative nature of this training.”
But North Korea apparently did not see it this way.
“We have a military operation plan of our style to liberate South Korea and strike the U.S. mainland ratified by our dignified supreme headquarters,” the North’s National Defense Commission said in its statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
It said it had deployed “offensive means” to strike South Korea and “U.S. imperialist aggressor forces bases in the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. mainland.”
“If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment,” the commission said.
North Korea is particularly sensitive to suggestions of attacks on Kim — as the furor surrounding the 2014 Hollywood film “The Interview” showed — and it has a habit of making threats on which it cannot follow through.
Last week, Kim ordered his military to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time, saying they were needed, given the “ferocious hostility” of new “gangster-like” sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.
The threats issued Monday were “absolutely not credible,” said Daniel Pinkston, a former Korean linguist with the U.S. Air Force who teaches at Troy University’s campus in Seoul.
“They would trigger everything North Korea wants to avoid, which is their absolute destruction in retaliatory attacks,” Pinkston said. “Second, if you are going to launch an attack against a much stronger adversary, why would you telegraph that? You’d want the element of surprise.”
Much of North Korea’s rhetoric is for domestic consumption, as Kim tries to burnish his leadership credentials ahead of a much-anticipated Workers’ Party congress in May, the first in 36 years.
Kim, however, has shown himself willing to use the means available to him to express his anger. Last year, during a period of increased tensions with South Korea, he ordered his military onto a war footing, sending army units to the demilitarized zone and submarines out of port.
South Korea and the United States said they will increase monitoring of North Korea during the exercises.
“We will carry out these exercises while keeping tabs on signs of North Korean provocations,” a South Korean official told reporters. “If the North provokes us during this exercise, the U.S. and our troops will retaliate with an attack ten-fold stronger.”
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea, the result of an security alliance formed during the Korean War. (Contributor: By Anna Fifield for The Washington Post)
[Addendum] North Korea threatens nuclear strike over U.S.-South Korean exercises
The news was announced in a statement by the National Defense Commission of North Korea and published in the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
"As the joint military exercises to be staged by the enemies are regarded as the most undisguised nuclear war drills aimed to infringe upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, its military counteraction will be more preemptive and offensive nuclear strike to cope with them," the statement read.
The United States responded with a call for caution.
"We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions and statements that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments," a senior administration official said Monday. "We are closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula in coordination with our Republic of Korea allies."
North Korea's bellicose words are typical around the time of annual military exercises, according to CNN's Paula Hancocks.
"They (North Korea) have threatened this before, and these kinds of threats are to be expected this time of year," she said.
But Hancocks noted that tensions this year are even higher than normal after recent action at the United Nations.
The Security Council voted last week to impose an array of sanctions against North Korea because of that nation's recent nuclear test and missile launch, both of which defied international sanctions. The resolution that brought about the sanctions aims to cripple the economic factors that fuel the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The North Korean news agency has blasted the sanctions as "unprecedented and gangster-like."
Discussions about new sanctions started after North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb in January, its fourth nuclear test.
Then, in February, Pyongyang said it had successfully launched an Earth satellite into orbit via the long-range Kwangmyongsong carrier rocket.
About 17,000 U.S. forces will participate in the joint military exercises with South Korea, according to United States Forces Korea.
The two exercises, "Key Resolve" and "Foal Eagle," will run until April 30. "Foal Eagle" will involve ground, air, naval and special operations forces from both militaries, USFA said. (Contributor: By Dana Ford for CNN)
Pray for restraint that no “accidental provocation” will set off an international incident that gets out of control. Dictators often use bombastic threats primarily to impress their own people, and Kim Jong Un is no exception. Also, U.S. military personnel and forces are spread thin globally, and our country cannot afford losses through careless speech and action. Pray accordingly.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18)
NETANYAHU SAYS DECLINED TO MEET OBAMA DUE TO U.S. ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cancellation of a proposed meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama put more strain on their troubled ties on Tuesday just before a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.
The White House said on Monday it was "surprised" to learn first from Israeli media that Netanyahu had decided against coming to a conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Washington on March 20, and the suggestion in some reports that among his reasons was Obama's unavailability to see him.
Zeev Elkin, an Israeli cabinet minister close to Netanyahu, countered that Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer had given the White House advance warning the trip might not happen.
It was the latest episode in a fraught relationship between the right-wing Israeli leader and Democratic U.S. president that has yet to recover from deep differences over last year's U.S.-led international nuclear deal with Israel's foe Iran.
Biden, whose 2010 visit to Israel was marred by acrimony over a Jewish settlement plan announced during his trip, arrives later in the day for talks on Wednesday with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank.
With violence surging for the past five months, U.S. officials have said no peace breakthrough is expected during Biden's visit.
In Jerusalem on Tuesday, a 50-year-old Palestinian woman who tried to stab Israeli police officers was shot dead, a police spokeswoman said.
Since October, Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car rammings have killed 28 Israelis and an American. Israeli forces have killed at least 174 Palestinians, 116 of whom Israel says were assailants. Most others were shot dead during violent protests.
Netanyahu has hailed Biden's visit as a sign of Israel's "strong relations" with the United States.
Within hours, however, a flap erupted with the White House, which said that contrary to media reports, Netanyahu had been offered a March 18 meeting with Obama, ahead of the president's landmark Cuba visit on March 21 and 22.
Netanyahu's office said on Tuesday he would not attend the AIPAC event and voiced appreciation for Obama's willingness to host him.
It said Netanyahu was reluctant to be drawn into the U.S. presidential campaign, where candidates have been vying to assert their bona fides as friends of Israel.
In 2012, Netanyahu hosted then-Republican contender Mitt Romney in Israel in what many Democrats saw as a bid to undercut Obama's second-term run. Israel denied meddling. (Contributor: By Jeffrey Heller for Yahoo News and Reuters News Service - Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Dominic Evans)
Despite rising global anti-Semitism, most American Christians support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisions on behalf of Israel’s well-being. As a political leader, he follows his intuition and agenda. He is determined not to be pulled into our nation’s present political frenzy. Pray for divine restraint on Iran and ISIS and the control of civilian turmoil and knife attacks in Israel’s cities and towns.
“Now the Lord had said to Abram:…’I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Gen. 12:1,3)
RECORD 61 MILLION IMMIGRANTS IN U.S., 15.7 MILLION ILLEGALLY
There are a record 61 million immigrants and their American-born children in the United States, including an estimated 15.7 million illegally here, according to a new analysis of 2015 U.S. Census data.
The estimated number of undocumented immigrants is one of the highest ever.
The analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies found that 45.3 million, or three-fourths of the 61 million, are legal immigrants and their children. The report out Monday notes that the so-called "Gang of Eight" immigration bill supported by GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio would have doubled that number of legal immigrants.
"These numbers raise profound questions that are seldom even asked: What number of immigrants can be assimilated? What is the absorption capacity of our schools, health care system, infrastructure, and labor market? What is the effect on the environment and quality of life from significantly increasing the nation's population density?" wrote Steven Camarota, the Center's director of Research.
"With 45 million legal immigrants and their young children already here, does it make sense to continue admitting more than one million new legal permanent immigrants every year?" he added.
His report found that the normal pattern of immigration to the United States changed after 1970. At that time, there were 13.5 million immigrants, or about one in 15 U.S. residents.
But since 2000, the number of immigrants has increased 18.4 million, and now nearly one of every five U.S. residents are immigrants.
"The number of immigrants and their young children grew six times faster than the nation's total population from 1970 to 2015 — 353 percent vs. 59 percent," he added.
Camarota dug deep into Census Current Population Survey and other data to determine his estimate of 15.7 million illegals in the United States.
"Our best estimate is that in 2015 there were 5.1 million children with at least one illegal immigrant parent. Taken together, the best available evidence indicates that there were a total of 15.7 million illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children in the adjusted December 2015 CPS, accounting for 25.7 percent of the 61 million immigrants and their children in the country," he said.
He broke the figures down state by state and Camarota said that "the number of immigrants and their minor children from 1970 to 2015 has been nothing short of astonishing." Some examples:
-- In Georgia, this population grew 3,058 percent (from 55,000 to 1.75 million), 25 times faster than the overall state population.
-- In Nevada, this population grew 3,002 percent (from 26,000 to 821,000), six times faster than the overall state population.
-- In North Carolina, this population grew 2,937 percent (from 47,000 to 1.43 million), 30 times faster than the overall state population. (Contributor: Paul Bedard for The Washington Examiner)
The average person cannot easily interpret these figures. Most Americans believe the U.S. should welcome the world’s “tired [and] poor,” but a fair question is, How long can unregulated immigration continue? With open borders and numbers rising from thousands to millions, there must be limits. Pray for equitable solutions by way of November’s elections. Study the issues, and plan to vote!
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord….” (Acts 17:26-27)
U.S. STRIKES IN SOMALIA KILL 150 SHABAB FIGHTERS
American aircraft on Saturday struck a training camp in Somalia belonging to the Islamist militant group the Shabab, the Pentagon said, killing about 150 fighters who were assembled for what American officials believe was a graduation ceremony and prelude to an imminent attack against American troops and their allies in East Africa.
Defense officials said the strike was carried out by drones and American aircraft, which dropped a number of precision-guided bombs and missiles on the field where the fighters were gathered. Pentagon officials said they did not believe there were any civilian casualties, but there was no independent way to verify the claim. They said they delayed announcing the strike until they could assess the outcome.
It was the deadliest attack on the Shabab in the more than decade-long American campaign against the group, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, and a sharp deviation from previous American strikes, which have concentrated on the group’s leaders, not on its foot soldiers.
It comes in response to new concerns that the group, which was responsible for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on African soil when it struck a popular mall in Nairobi in 2013, is in the midst of a resurgence after losing much of the territory it once held and many of its fighters in the last several years. The planned attack on American and African Union troops in Somalia, American officials say, may have been an attempt by the Shabab to carry out the same kind of high-impact act of terrorism as the one in Nairobi.
The fighters had just completed “training for a large-scale attack” against American and African Union forces, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
Pentagon officials would not say how they knew that the Shabab fighters killed on Saturday were training for an attack on United States and African Union forces, but the militant group is believed to be under heavy American surveillance.
The Shabab fighters were standing in formation at a facility the Pentagon called Camp Raso, 120 miles north of Mogadishu, when the American warplanes struck on Saturday, officials said, acting on information gleaned from intelligence sources in the area and from American spy planes. One intelligence agency assessed that the toll might have been higher had the strike happened earlier in the ceremony. Apparently, some fighters were filtering away from the event when the bombing began.
The strike was another escalation in what has become the latest battleground in the Obama administration’s war against terror: Africa. The United States and its allies are focused on combating the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and American officials estimate that with an influx of men from Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya have swelled to as many as 6,500 fighters, allowing the group to capture a 150-mile stretch of coastline over the past year.
The arrival of the Islamic State in Libya has sparked fears that the group’s reach could spread to other North African countries, and the United States is increasingly trying to prevent that. American forces are now helping to combat Al Qaeda in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad; and the Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, in what has become a multifront war against militant Islam in Africa.
The United States has a small number of trainers and advisers with African Union — primarily Kenyan — troops in Somalia. Defense officials said that the African Union’s military mission to Somalia was believed to have been the target of the planned attack.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, called the attack a “good example” of how the United States military can work with local partners to advance security.
“The removal of those terrorist fighters degrades Al Shabab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases and planning attacks on the U.S.,” Mr. Earnest told reporters on Monday. He insisted that avoiding civilian casualties is a “very very high priority, both for moral reasons but also because extremist organizations like Al Shabab would just use the death of innocent civilians to try to recruit additional members and whip up additional anti-U.S. sentiment.”
Saturday’s strike was the most significant American attack on the Shabab since September 2014, when an American drone strike killed the leader of the group, Ahmed Abdi Godane, at the time one of the most wanted men in Africa. That strike was followed by one last March, when Adan Garar, a senior member of the group, was killed in a drone strike on his vehicle.
If the killings of Mr. Godane and Mr. Garar initially crippled the group, that no longer appears to be the case. In the past two months, Shabab militants have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed more than 150 people, including Kenyan soldiers stationed at a remote desert outpost and beachcombers in Mogadishu.
In addition, the group has said it was responsible for a bomb on a Somali jetliner that tore a hole through the fuselage and for an attack last month on a popular hotel and a public garden in Mogadishu that killed 10 people and injured more than 25. On Monday, the Shabab claimed responsibility for a bomb planted in a laptop computer that went off at an airport security checkpoint in the town of Beletwein in central Somalia, wounding at least six people, including two police officers. The police said that one other bomb was defused.
At the same time, Shabab assassination teams have fanned out across Mogadishu and other major towns, stealthily eliminating government officials and others they consider apostates.
The Shabab have also retaken several towns after African Union forces pulled out. The African Union peacekeeping force, paid for mostly by Western governments, features troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti and other African nations.
The Shabab were once strong, then greatly weakened and now seem to be somewhere in between, while analysts say the group competes with the Islamic State for recruits and tries to show — in the deadliest way — that it is still relevant. Its dream is to turn Somalia into a pure Islamic state.
The Pentagon’s announcement of the attack in Somalia came as the Obama administration said it planned in the future to be more transparent about the number of casualties caused by the use of counterterrorism strikes outside declared war zones. Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said a report would be released “in the coming weeks,” on the total number of casualties caused by strikes since Mr. Obama took office. (Contributor: By Helene Cooper for The New York Times)
War is a horror, and the statistics are chilling. A “just war” includes the rationale that the killing of a smaller number of enemy troops prevents the killing of a larger number of the defender’s troops. Thus, to eliminate the Shabab and the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) could prevent the genocide of Middle East Christians and other non-Muslim people groups. Pray for a quick resolution.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.... And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt. 24:6, 14)
PLANNED PARENTHOOD PRESIDENT, TO SPEAK AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
Ms. Richards was extended an invitation to speak at Georgetown University by the Lecture Fund, a nonpartisan, student-run organization that seeks to promote dialogue on the Washington, D.C., campus.
The Catholic Church has long been opposed to abortion and considers it a grave evil equivalent to murder. Since taking over as president of Planned Parenthood in 2006, Ms. Richards has overseen more than 2.8 million abortions, according to LifeSite, a pro-life media outlet.
Critics of the event say Georgetown is extending a platform to a set of beliefs diametrically opposed to church teaching.
“This is the latest in a long history of scandal at Georgetown University,” Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, said in a statement. “Disguised as an academic event, this is nothing more than a platform for abortion advocacy at a Catholic university and under the nose of the Catholic bishops, featuring a wicked woman who defends the sale of baby body parts and is responsible for the deaths of millions of aborted children.”
Georgetown defended the invitation on the grounds of academic freedom [Jesuit influence?].
“We respect our students’ right to express their personal views and are committed to sustaining a forum for the free exchange of ideas, even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial or objectionable to some,” the university said in a statement.
“Georgetown remains firmly committed to the sanctity and human dignity of every life at every stage,” the school said.
Previous speakers hosted by the Lecture Fund include Ann Coulter, a conservative commentator; Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter to President Obama; and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal. (Contributor: By Bradford Richardson for The Washington Times)
Pray for strong alumni reaction. IFA does not foment division between “branches” of Christianity, but Georgetown University (GU) betrays its Roman Catholic heritage by supporting this brazen denial of the parent Church’s strong pro-life standards. By welcoming Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, GU officials openly support an affront to every vestige of human life sanctity.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20)
BILL DE BLASIO MANDATES TRANSGENDER ACCESS TO NYC BATHROOMS
“We want people to know they can go about their lives and not be excluded,” Mr. de Blasio said during a press conference at the Chelsea Recreation Center. “That’s why this is so important. This is about affirming the right of someone to follow through on their own identity.”
The law will allow transgender people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex.
Bianey Garcia, a transgender woman and advocate who sits on the board of Make the Road New York, said she felt “humiliated” when she was prevented using the women’s restroom by a restaurant owner.
“That day I felt humiliated, but like so many others, I didn’t think of making a complaint or telling anyone because of fear, frustration and disbelief,” Ms. Garcia said. “Access to the ladies bathroom is my right as a transgender woman, as a human being.”
Opponents of expanding access to facilities on the basis of gender identity contend such laws will create a whole host of issues, from exposing young girls to older men in changing rooms, to discouraging bystander intervention when potentially predatory men are seen accessing women’s restrooms.
Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said laws like Mr. de Blasio’s fail to understand that transgender people are not the only ones whose rights need to be protected.
“Here’s what we need to realize: Everyone in this debate has rights,” Mr. Backholm said. “Transgender people have the right to go to the bathroom. But everybody else in the state of New York or the city of New York or whatever state we’re in, they all have legal rights to privacy that are real. And the problem is governments choosing one person’s rights over everybody else, rather than recognizing that everybody has an interest here, and we need to behave like adults and make sure that nobody gets to say my rights trump your rights because I say so.”
The order is the latest victory for an emboldened nationwide transgender movement that seeks public recognition and acceptance through access to sex-segregated amenities.
The Charlotte City Council in North Carolina last month passed a similar mandate, but the state legislature said it plans to block the measure before it is ever implemented.
In South Dakota last week, transgender advocates scored a major victory when Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a law that would have prohibited students in public schools from using opposite-sex restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities.
But voters in Houston overwhelmingly defeated an anti-discrimination ordinance in November that would have granted transgender people access to restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. (Contributor: By Bradford Richardson for The Washington Times)
Older Christians—born before or just after WW2—have long-since given up defining America as a Christian nation. But now, we see worse: a country losing its civility. With “official” transgender confusion, along with steep moral decline, how are we to define current U.S. society? Christians must pray and take a stand. Gender and sexuality are defined by God, not personal preference.
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply….’” (Gen. 1:27-28)