Mattis Laughs Off Report That Pentagon Is Pulling Punches On Military Options For North Korea

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visits the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea on Oct. 27, 2017.
US Army / Sgt. Amber I. Smith

Defense Secretary James Mattis has scoffed at a New York Times story that claims the National Security Council does not feel the Pentagon has provided President Trump with robust military options to counter North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“I got a kick out of it, frankly,” Mattis told reporters Friday morning at the Pentagon. “It is what it is, but I could not find any relation to what’s actually going on.”

The New York Times story is part of a growing narrative in the mainstream media that Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor, is at odds with Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about whether to attack North Korea.

McMaster reportedly favors launching a “bloody nose” strike to get North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to freeze his nuclear program, while Mattis and Tillerson are worried that even a limited attack could explode into full-scale war, according to the Times and other media outlets.

During a conference call last July, Tillerson and Mattis were overheard complaining that the National Security Council was becoming too aggressive toward North Korea, not knowing that others could hear what they were saying, the New York Times reported on Thursday citing unnamed White House officials.

On Friday, Mattis implied the New York Times account of the conference call was wrong, but he did not say outright whether he and Tillerson had been inadvertently overheard criticizing the National Security.

“I thought it was especially humorous that [the story reported] we didn’t realize we were still in the teleconference – that one of the people on the screen was talking with us at the same time,” Mattis said. “I guess we were talking to ourselves and imagining the person on the screen.”

Mattis said that he and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, have briefed Trump several times on military options for North Korea. Only once did a member of the National Security Council not attend such a briefing, and that was because Vice President Mike Pence was traveling at the time, he said.

“A couple weeks afterwards, the vice president came to the Pentagon and we briefed him on the exact same brief that the chairman and I did,” Mattis said.

When asked about his relationship with McMaster, Mattis said he has “no problems” with the National Security Council.

“I’ve been there twice this week on other issues, and both times the first place I stopped was with him, and we discussed how the meeting was going to go that day,” Mattis said.

Since President Trump took office, North Korea has made rapid strides in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. The State Department is leading government efforts to apply pressure to the North Korean regime.

Both Mattis and Tillerson believe a preemptive strike against North Korea is not out of the question, but they are confident that a diplomatic solution to the standoff will eventually be found, the New York Times reported.

When asked about Mattis’ comments on Friday, a New York Times spokeswoman said the newspaper maintains its reporting is accurate.

“We stand by our story,” said Ari Isaacman Bevacqua.

Want to read more from Task & Purpose? Sign up for our daily newsletter »

A Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak boat crew displays their new 38-foot Special Purpose Craft - Training Boat in Womens Bay Sept. 27, 2011. (Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen)

A collision between a Coast Guard boat and a Navy vessel near Kodiak Island, Alaska on Wednesday landed six coasties and three sailors to the hospital, officials said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jamarius Fortson)

The Navy has identified the two Defense Department civilians who were killed in a shooting Wednesday at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo)

A shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida has left four people dead, including the gunman, law enforcement officials said at a Friday news conference.

The shooter and two victims were killed at the base and another victim died after being taken to the hospital, said Chip Simmons, deputy chief of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

Another seven people remain hospitalized, including two sheriff's deputies who engaged the gunman, Simmons said at Friday's news conference. One was hit in the arm and the other was shot in the knee. Both are expected to recover.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Victoria Fontanelli, an administrative specialist with 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, moves through a simulated village inside the Infantry Immersion Trainer as part of training for the Female Engagement Team, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Oct 16, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Brendan Custer)

Widespread sexism and gender bias in the Marine Corps hasn't stopped hundreds of female Marines from striving for the branch's most dangerous, respected and selective jobs.

Six years after the Pentagon officially opened combat roles to women in 2013, 613 female Marines and sailors now serve in them, according to new data released by the Marine Corps.

"Females are now represented in every previously-restricted occupational field," reads a powerpoint released this month on the Marine Corps Integration Implementation Plan (MCIIP), which notes that 60% of those female Marines and sailors now serving in previously-restricted units joined those units in the past year.

Read More Show Less
Sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Columbia (SSN 771) prepare to moor at the historic submarine piers at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam following a six-month Western Pacific deployment, June 6, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. Lee)

The troubled 22-year-old Pearl Harbor sailor identified as shooting three shipyard workers Wednesday and then killing himself may have come from a troubled ship.

Gabriel Romero, a sailor on the submarine USS Columbia, fatally shot two civilian workers and wounded a third while the Los Angeles-class vessel is in Dry Dock 2 for a two-year overhaul, according to The Associated Press and other sources.

Romero "opened fire on shipyard personnel with his M-4 service rifle and then turned his M9 service pistol on himself," Fox News Pentagon reporter Lucas Tomlinson reported, citing a preliminary incident report.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam was not able to provide information Thursday on a report that multiple suicides have occurred on the Columbia.

Hawaii News Now said Romero was undergoing disciplinary review and was enrolled in anger management classes.

Read More Show Less