N Korea Fires Most Powerful Missile Yet, Claims US Mainland Now In Its Sights


North Korea declared Wednesday that it has achieved its long-sought goal of becoming a nuclear power after firing a powerful new missile it said could hit any point in the United States, dealing a new challenge to President Donald Trump.

The launch shattered more than two months of relative calm and came just over a week after Trump put the North back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S., South Korea, Japan and the United Nations chief strongly condemned the provocation and urged the North to halt its weapons program.

In recent months, Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury” and to “totally destroy” the communist state if needed to defend the homeland or its allies. His tone was more muted after Wednesday’s test.

“I will only tell you that we will take care of it,” the president told reporters at the White House, where he was holding a budget meeting with Republican congressional leaders. “It is a situation that we will handle.”

The intercontinental ballistic missile, which was fired at a steep angle from an area north of Pyongyang, flew for more than 50 minutes. It traveled nearly 600 miles and reached an altitude of up to 2,800 miles before crashing into the sea off the coast of Japan, military officials said.

North Korea gave roughly the same distances, which were farther than ICBMs launched on July 4 and July 28.

An undated picture released by North Koreas Korean Central News Agency on March 7Photo via KCNA/Associated Press

“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they've taken," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a White House meeting with Trump. “The bottom line is it is a continued effort to build a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”

Defiant Message

It was the first missile test since Sept. 15 and sent a clear message of defiance against Trump’s campaign to isolate the regime by punishing it with tough economic sanctions and pressuring its main ally, China, to withdraw its support.

North Korea put its famous TV anchor, Ri Chun Hee, wearing her trademark pink and black traditional dress, on the air to declare the test a success.

She read a government statement claiming the new Hwasong-15 had improved on capabilities demonstrated by two ICBMs launched in July and could be armed with a “super-large heavy nuclear warhead” that could strike the “whole U.S. mainland.”

She also said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump has mocked as “little rocket man,” had observed the launch and “declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”

The North also reiterated its insistence that its aim is to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity from “U.S. imperialists.”

Unlike past years when Pyongyang was usually believed to be exaggerating its claims of advances, experts agreed it has made surprisingly swift progress toward its goal of developing a nuclear-capable missile that could target the U.S. mainland.

The communist state already is believed to have the ability to strike South Korea and U.S. bases elsewhere in the region with an arsenal of conventional weapons and tens of thousands of soldiers massed near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.

David Wright, an arms-control expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the results from Wednesday’s test suggested that the missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles if fired on a standard trajectory.

“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States,” he said in a statement.

North Korea's July 28 launch of the Hwasong-14.Photo via Rodong Sinmun

However, he said it was likely the North Koreans used a mock warhead that was lighter than the real thing to increase the range.

“If true, that means it would be incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier,” he said.

Kim Tae-woo, a military studies professor at South Korea’s Konyang University, said the North Koreans appear to have mastered the technology needed to attack the U.S., but he doesn’t believe they will do so.

“This is kind of a game, brinkmanship diplomacy. That doesn’t mean that North Korea is ready to go to war against a superpower,” he said in a telephone interview. “North Korea in fact wants to acquire a lot of concessions from the U.S.”

The adversaries have been locked in a standoff since the North Koreans began pursuing nuclear weapons after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

Washington insists it will never accept the North as a nuclear power while Pyongyang maintains its nuclear program is not up for negotiation.

However, U.S. officials have suggested the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it showed restraint.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly condemned the launch but said in a statement that “diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now.”

Olympic Worries

Key U.S. ally South Korea responded by firing from a land-based missile battery off the peninsula’s east coast along with strikes from a fighter jet and a navy destroyer minutes after the North Korean missile took flight.

“This training shows that our military is watching North Korea’s military trends 24 hours a day and … can strike precisely anytime on the ground, at sea and in the air in case of provocations,” the military said on its Facebook page.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, warned the government won’t tolerate such provocations and urged the North to return to dialogue as he convened an emergency National Security Council meeting.

He also told officials to try to prevent any negative effect on the Olympics, which begin on Feb. 9 in the South Korean resort area of Pyeongchang, just 50 miles south of the border. The International Olympic Committee has promised the games will be safe amid concern that security fears may hurt attendance.

Moon, who has pursued a policy of engagement with the North and vowed never to allow another war on the divided peninsula, also expressed concern that the growing threat from the North may cause Trump to strike militarily.

“If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could travel from one continent to another, the situation could spiral out of control,” he said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

U.S. and Japanese officials had been expecting another test since radio signals indicated the North Koreans were preparing for a launch, but the timing just a few hours after midnight local time took many surprise.

Japan tracked the missile but didn’t try to destroy it or initiate a public-warning system because there was no imminent threat to the population or territory, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. He added that no damage to ships or airplanes had been reported.

North Korea had accelerated its nuclear weapons program, launching about 20 missiles earlier this year, including one it said could have reached the United States.

On Sept. 3, the North detonated what was widely believed to be a hydrogen bomb and has threatened to conduct a test over the Pacific.

But it suspended those tests in September after a missile flew over Japan’s Hokkaido Island on Sept. 15.


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NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

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