One day after Russia said it was going to step up its military surveillance around North Korea in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test explosion and short-range missile tests, U.S. and South Korean forces also increased their level of watchfulness. CNN reported on May 28 that this puts U.S. and South Korean forces at their second-highest “Watchcon” alert level, a level that was last used when North Korea exploded a nuclear test device in 2006.
North Korea’s belligerence has now extended to restarting its main nuclear reactor, declaring itself no longer bound by the 1953 Korean War armistice, and threatening to attack South Korea if it participates in U.S. efforts to inspect North Korean ships that may be carrying missiles.
“One day after its nuclear test drew angry and widespread condemnation, North Korea continued to defy the international community on Tuesday by test-firing two more short-range missiles, a South Korean government official said,” the New York Times reported on May 26. The BBC pointed out on the same day that South Korea’s Yonhap news agency “said the test involved one ground-to-ship missile and one ground-to-air missile.”
IRNA, Iran's state-controlled news agency, quoted a statement made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on May 20 that his country has test-fired the new Sejil-2 missile, which has a range sufficient to reach Israel, southeastern Europe, and U.S. bases in the Middle East. The launch came at a time of increased tensions between Iran and eastern nations suspicious of the Islamic state's nuclear-enrichment program and its potential to produce nuclear weapons.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has denied a speculative report appearing in the New York Times for May 19 that Zalmay Khalilzad, who was former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in the administration of President George W. Bush, might assume an important unelected position inside the Afghan government. The Times report, which cited senior American and Afghan officials, said that Ambassador Khalilzad has been talking with President Karzai for several weeks about taking on a position that the two described as "the chief executive officer of Afghanistan."
After months of initiatives and statements from the new Obama administration indicating it intended to reverse U.S. policy and reopen relations with Syria, President Obama, on May 7, signed an executive order renewing sanctions on Damascus that had been put in place by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Amman, Jordan, on May 8 at the beginning of an eight-day Holy Land pilgrimage. Besides Jordan, the pope’s tour will include visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics had barely set foot in predominantly Muslim Jordan, however, when it became apparent that the reaction to his visit among followers of Islam would vary widely.
If our military is any indication, it just may be true that there are no atheists in a foxhole. The armed forces have long seemed to be an arena wherein faith runs strong, and while this is laudable, it also creates problems with today’s secular civilian authorities and top brass. One example of this disconnect has just played out, with a recent story about how American soldiers in Afghanistan were skirting military rules by engaging in shadow proselytization. Military.com reports:
Pakistani fighter jets and helicopters struck Taliban positions in the country's Swat Valley on May 7 as the military continued its offensive against Taliban militants. A peace accord announced on February 16 — according to which Pakistan’s government agreed to a system of strict Islamic law, or sharia, in Swat in return for the Taliban’s promise to end insurgent violence and disarm — collapsed last month. Taliban gunmen, instead of laying down their arms as agreed, advanced to within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad. U.S. officials, concerned that the Taliban were using Northwest Pakistan as a staging area against U.S. operations in neighboring Afghanista denounced the accord, saying the government was appeasing the militants.
Back in February, Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, predicted that the additional 17,000 U.S. troops scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan would remain there for three to five years. The additional 17,000 troops would bring total U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan up to around 55,000, and an AP article in the Army Times for February 19 reported that still another 10,000 U.S. soldiers could be sent to Afghanistan in the future.
In the midst of an economic crisis and worries over a global epidemic, North Korea’s creaky totalitarian state continues to occupy headline news. North Korea, arguably the last Stalinist regime on Earth, has, over the past decade, conducted three long-range missile tests — none of which has come remotely close to demonstrating an ability to reach even western Alaska, much less deliver a payload to the continental United States — and carried out a single, low-yield nuclear test that apparently was only partly successful. Now the North Koreans are threatening more missile and nuclear tests unless the UN Security Council apologizes for tightening sanctions over the latest missile launch.