By Jonathan Davis
Weeks before Christmas and an Pyongyang-imposed end-of-the-year “deadline” to restart denuclearization talks, North Korean rhetoric towards the United States and South Korea grew increasingly bellicose.
Earlier this month, in fact, North Korean officials warned of a “Christmas surprise” if talks were not resumed or rescheduled.
The Pentagon not only took the North Korean warning seriously, but DoD military and intelligence officials were proactive in sending messages to leader Kim Jong-un not to do something stupid — like launch a missile at someone or conduct a nuclear test.
Christmas came and went and nothing happened, and that could have been simply because Kim was bluffing in an attempt to get President Trump to flinch.
Or it could have been due to a very unmistakable message sent by the Pentagon to Kim and his senior leaders that went something like this: ‘If you screw up and miscalculate, it could be your last mistake.’
The Washington Times reports that the U.S. and South Korea conducted a special operations exercise simulating targeted attacks against North Korean leaders:
The U.S. this week dramatically ramped up surveillance over North Korea ahead of Pyongyang’s anticipated “Christmas gift,” while the Pentagon sent an unmistakably blunt message by leaking news of a November special-operations drill that practiced taking out top North Korean officials.
The revelations underscore how seriously the Pentagon took North Korea’s threats, which was expected to be a long-range ballistic missile test or even the resumption of nuclear weapons testing. …
While Christmas came and went with no signs of any major North Korean tests, regional analysts say the U.S. military was wise to ramp up its surveillance. It’s unclear whether the public disclosure of such intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) — first reported by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency — played a role in altering North Korea’s plans.
“It makes military sense to do so … I would have recommended an ISR surge to try to discern North Korea’s next move,” said David Maxwell, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who served extensively on the Korean Peninsula during his three decades in the Army. …
Last month, U.S. and South Korean commandos reportedly conducted joint drills in which they rehearsed raids on enemy facilities and the capture of top enemy officials. The drills were first reported by Reuters earlier this week.
The exercises apparently took place in November, but Reuters reported Monday that it recently viewed photos of the drills, which were carried out at American military facilities in Gunsan, a city in the southwestern part of South Korea.
By letting media outlets view the photos and report on the drills so close to Christmas Day, the Pentagon sent a clear signal to North Korea that it continues to prepare for military action, including the potential targeting of officials in Mr. Kim’s inner circle.
Carrot and stick. While the U.S. military was conducting surveillance overflights, President Trump was publicly downplaying the Christmas surprise threat.
Trump wants a deal with Kim to denuclearize the peninsula, even promising foreign investment to bolster the North’s economy after the lifting of sanctions.
But convincing Kim of that is another matter, obviously. Still, the drills last month and the overflights this week should prove to Kim that Trump’s willing to make a deal but that he’s no patsy.