US Officials Warn Special Ops Forces Being Stretched to Possible Breaking Point

FILE - A U.S. Navy SEAL member provides cover for his teammates advancing on a suspected location of al-Qaida and Taliban forces, Jan. 26, 2002.

A U.S. Navy SEAL member provides cover for his teammates advancing on a suspected location of al-Qaida and Taliban forces, Jan. 26, 2002.

 

Add U.S. lawmakers to the ranks of those worried the country's special operations forces are being stretched to a possible breaking point.

Pentagon officials raised the issue months ago, telling lawmakers in May the continuous, heavy reliance on the most elite U.S. forces was threatening to erode their capabilities.

Since then, such concerns have only grown, highlighted by a series of high-profile incidents, including a probe into whether two members of the Navy's SEAL team may have been involved in the death of an Army Green Beret member in Mali this past June, and the death of four special operation soldiers in an ambush in Niger last month.

FILE - In this photo released by the U.S. Army on March 9, 2017, U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe as Nigerien armed forces service members fire their weapons with the assistance of illumination rounds during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger.
FILE - In this photo released by the U.S. Army on March 9, 2017, U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe as Nigerien armed forces service members fire their weapons with the assistance of illumination rounds during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger.

"I do worry about overuse of SOF [special operations forces]," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Republican Mac Thornberry said Wednesday at a conference in Washington.

"They are increasingly an organization of choice because SOF is very effective," he said.

Force of choice

There currently are about 70,000 active duty, reserve and civilian personnel serving under U.S. Special Operations Command. According to Congressional testimony, approximately 8,000 forces are currently deployed to more than 80 countries.

Some of the more high-profile missions include critical roles as part of the effort to defeat the Islamic State (IS) terror group in both Iraq and Syria, as well as assistance to Afghan forces fighting both the Taliban and IS.

Efforts to stem the influence of terror groups in Africa, including the mission in Niger, as well as efforts to reassure U.S. allies in Europe and Southeast Asia, have only increased the need for special operations forces.

"The operational tempo is so incredible," Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Democrat Jack Reed said at a policy forum on U.S. special operations forces.

"The idea that you would have within six years, multiple deployments, some people every six months to deploy, that in and of itself causes lots of consequences," he said.

Operational tempo

Some lawmakers fear that even as U.S. special operations forces perform well while they are deployed, the high operational tempo is taking a toll once they return home — with personnel sometimes suffering from physical and emotional scars that cannot be easily identified.

FILE - Green Berets assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) aim down a hallway during a training exercise with Lithuanian Special Forces in Eastern Europe, Nov. 13, 2017.
FILE - Green Berets assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) aim down a hallway during a training exercise with Lithuanian Special Forces in Eastern Europe, Nov. 13, 2017.

"These men and women are some of the most hardcore, determined people that we have in our armed forces," said Republican Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veteran who served in Iraq.

"It is very hard for them to step forward and say, 'Hey, I need to go see the doc. Hey, I need to visit with the counselor,'" she said. "We have to provide more support for those who are engaging in this high op tempo environment."

Some of the country's elite forces are starting to get more help.

Ernst said some Navy SEAL teams now have psychologists assigned to their units. Other units are doing more to monitor and detect changes in behavior following deployments.

But she and others worry existing programs are not working well enough, and they say more needs to be done.

"We spend so much time and effort talking about the stuff we're going buy for the military. I'm not sure over the years we have spent enough time on our most valuable assets, which is our people," according to Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

Still, there are nagging concerns the current special operations force may be nearing its limit.

"What they're capable of is unbelievable, but for how long?" said Representative Adam Smith, the ranking member of House Armed Services Committee. "How many missions can you send them on? How many times can they do this? I think that's what we don't know."

Growing demands

In the meantime, lawmakers expect Washington's reliance on special operations forces is only going to grow, in part due to an expanding set of global hot spots and also because of a U.S. foreign policy approach that seems to be minimizing the use of diplomacy.

Senator Reed pointed to the U.S. operation in Niger, where four U.S. soldiers were killed, as an example.

"Part of that operation was sort of civic engagement — those special operators were talking to the head person in the village," he said. "Typically, with adequate security, that's a State Department function."

According to Ernst, "We should run the gamut before we are engaging our military and we can't do that if we don't have the personnel outside of DoD [the Department of Defense] that are shaping that battlefield for us, shaping that discussion.

"They have to be properly funded. It's critical to our national security," she said. "They help our [special forces] operators significantly."

Another option, according to both Reed and Ernst, is to expand the number of U.S. special operations forces, which they say may be necessary even with a bulked-up diplomatic corps.

"We have to increase numbers and resources," Reed said, warning, "We cannot sacrifice quality for quantity."

Militant Convoy That Left Raqqa Contradicts America’s New Counter-IS Strategy

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens to a reporter's question during a meeting with Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria at the Pentagon, Nov. 13, 2017, in Washington.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens to a reporter's question during a meeting with Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria at the Pentagon, Nov. 13, 2017, in Washington.

 

When the Trump administration rolled out a new campaign in May to “annihilate” Islamic State, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis praised tactical changes that would provide “no escape” for the terrorists.

But a convoy of thousands of Syrians — including hundreds of Islamic State (IS) fighters — permitted by U.S.-backed forces last month to leave the city once touted as the terror groups’ de facto capital, challenges that notion. Several officials told VOA it also highlights the “limitations of fighting by, with and through” local forces.

“This [convoy] is not our ideal,” U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the counter-Islamic State coalition, told VOA on Tuesday. “We did not want a negotiated surrender.”

According to Dillon, the convoy included about 300 potential IS fighters and 3,500 civilians who were relatives of the militants. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told the coalition the deal would prevent further civilian casualties as a result of the conflict in Raqqa.

U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group, right, and Iraq armed forces spokesman Gen. Yahyah Rasul hold a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.
U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group, right, and Iraq armed forces spokesman Gen. Yahyah Rasul hold a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

The convoy deal was brokered by the Raqqa Civilian Council, the Syrian Democratic Forces and tribal elders in the area. While the U.S. did not take part in the deal, it was aware of the convoy agreement and carefully watched the convoy as it left the city.

Dillon told VOA he had been surprised by the large number of family members and fighters.

“In Mosul, a lot of the hard-core fighters stayed to fight to the death. We expected the same here," he said, adding about 100 more IS fighters tried to take the deal after the convoy had left, but it was too late.

Strategic questions

Back in May, Mattis called for a new approach counterterrorism approach: "From shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS," he said, using an acronym for the militant group.

Some defense officials are frustrated that allowing the convoy fails to follow that strategy. But Dillon points out that the convoy deal did follow Mattis’ stated goal of “prevent(ing) the return home of escaped foreign fighters.”

Dillon said that as part of the convoy agreement, U.S.-backed fighters had gathered and processed biometric data from all potential fighters. That screening led to the discovery of four foreign fighters in the convoy, who were identified and detained by the SDF.

Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces inspect the bunker of the Islamic State militants under the stadium in Raqqa, Syria Oct. 18, 2017.
Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces inspect the bunker of the Islamic State militants under the stadium in Raqqa, Syria Oct. 18, 2017.

He said, had the U.S. seen an opportunity to strike any of the fighters without harming the civilians in the convoy, they would have done so, but the opportunity never arose.

Escaping with heavy weapons

The IS convoy recently was highlighted in an article by the BBC. The BBC claimed that a “secret deal” allowed hundreds of fighters to escape Raqqa, but the deal actually was announced in a press release on October 14.

While the deal might not have been secret, some of the details the BBC obtained from sources who took part in the convoy are worrisome. BBC’s sources report that the convoy included dozens of foreign fighters, along with tons of weapons and ammunition.

Dillon told reporters at the Pentagon he did not know why there was such a discrepancy between the U.S. data and the BBC reporting on the number of foreign fighters in the convoy.

“We are not aware of and certainly can’t corroborate the amount [of weapons] that were described in the story,” Dillon added.

Trump in Manila for ASEAN Summits

U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit gala dinner in Manila, Nov. 12, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit gala dinner in Manila, Nov. 12, 2017.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump landed in Manila Sunday for summits with eager but suspicious Southeast Asian leaders.

Trump’s Air Force One reached Manila shortly before 6 p.m. local time after about 3,500 Filipino protesters tried to march on the U.S. Embassy. The protesters shouted for Trump to leave and accused the U.S. government, a former Philippine colonizer of about 50 years, of looking for overseas wars.

Protesters scuffle with police as they are dispersed while trying to get near the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines to protest against the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump on Nov. 12, 2017.
Protesters scuffle with police as they are dispersed while trying to get near the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines to protest against the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump on Nov. 12, 2017.

 

“We know America has been launching war all over the world, in all the third-world countries they are trying to get into,” said protester Kristine Cabardo, 23. “U.S. imperialism in the first place brings only war and destruction.

One protest banner read “Dump Trump — #1 Terrorist!”

Thousands of riot police blocked protesters, who were organized in part by a minor left-leaning political party, from reaching the embassy or any venues where Trump is scheduled to attend summits organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as he arrives for the gala dinner marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary in Manila, Nov. 12, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as he arrives for the gala dinner marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary in Manila, Nov. 12, 2017.

 

“Literally the government of the Philippines does not serve its Filipino people,” Cabardo said. “Even the soldiers and the Philippine National Police are not there to protect and serve. They serve and protect the status quo, the U.S.-Duterte regime, the puppet regime of this government.”

Momentum in Vietnam

 

Before arriving in Manila Trump met in Hanoi with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, and afterwards Trump told a joint press conference, “For trade to work, all countries must play by the rules. I am encouraged that Vietnam has recently become the fastest growing export market to the United States. Mr. President, I applaud your efforts to implement economic reforms and increase Vietnam’s trade and investment in all directions. The United States is enthusiastic about reforms that promote economic prosperity for all Vietnamese citizens.”

President Donald Trump and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang pose for photographers at the Presidential Palace, Nov. 12, 2017, in Hanoi, Vietnam.
President Donald Trump and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang pose for photographers at the Presidential Palace, Nov. 12, 2017, in Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

He added “We just had a great discussion about American goods and services coming into Vietnam. Two-way street. I am confident that American energy, agriculture, financial services, aviation, digital commerce, and defense products are able to meet all of your many commercial needs. And, in fact, not only meet them but what we do is better than anybody else.”

“We are opening up and you are opening up and it’s going to even out,” Trump told Communist Party General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi. “And to think where we are and where we have come, it’s a tribute to both countries. Trade has become a very important element of our relationship.”

Vietnam 's Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a bilateral meeting at Communist Party Headquarters in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov. 12, 2017.
Vietnam 's Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a bilateral meeting at Communist Party Headquarters in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov. 12, 2017.

 

Speaking through a translator, Quang described his meeting with Trump as fruitful, saying, “The president’s state visit to Vietnam marks a milestone in Vietnam-U.S. relations, creating strong momentum for the substantive, effective, and stable development of the bilateral, comprehensive partnership.”

North Korea


Trump and Quang also discussed North Korea and the South China Sea.

Trump repeated his warning that North Korea represents a major threat to peace and stability in the region.

"As I said in my speech to the Republic of Korea’s national assembly, all responsible nations must act now to ensure that North Korea’s rogue regime stops threatening the world with unthinkable loss of life. Safety and security are goals that we can progress, not provocation. I mean, we have been provoked, the world has been provoked. We don’t want that. We want stability not chaos and we want peace, not war.”

In a Tweet earlier Sunday, Trump hit back at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who had again called him a dotard, a term that describes an elderly person who is losing his mental abilities.

On Twitter, Trump, who has frequently called Kim “Little Rocket Man,”, said, “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!”

 

 

 


During his bilateral meeting with Quang, Trump also offered his services as a mediator for the South China Sea dispute. When asked about the offer at the press conference, Quang would only say Vietnam seeks a peaceful resolution to the issue through negotiations and in line with international law.

APEC


Prior to his arrival in Hanoi, Trump was in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, where he attended the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

En route to Hanoi aboard Air Force One, Trump reiterated to reporters traveling with him that he discussed with APEC leaders bilateral agreements that have resulted in trade imbalances he says are disadvantageous to the U.S.

"It’s disgraceful. And I don’t blame any of those countries. I blame the people we had representing us who didn’t know what they were doing because they should have never let that happen."

At the close of the APEC meeting, the 21 member nations issued a statement expressing support for free trade and closer regional ties, without any mention of Trump's "America First" doctrine.

Trump joins 17 other heads of state in Manila for discussions likely to cover North Korea, the South China Sea and terrorism from a Southeast Asian angle. Many hope Trump will offer stronger trade and security ties to Southeast Asia but doubt he will announce deliverables this week.

China

On Friday, Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, offered starkly contrasting views of the direction for trade in Asia in separate speeches to regional business leaders

Trump told the APEC CEO Summit that he is willing to make bilateral trade agreements with any country in the Indo-Pacific region, but he firmly rejected multi-national deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was quickly abandoned in the first days of his administration.

"I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade," Trump said. "What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible."

The U.S. president said that in the past when his country "lowered market barriers, other countries didn't open their markets to us."

From now on, however, Trump warned the United States will, "expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules. We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides and that private investment, not government planners, will direct investment."

President Xi, whose country's rise has been driven by large-scale government-planning, immediately followed Trump on the stage in Danang.

Xi embraced the multilateral concept, in particular calling for support for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which would harmonize regional and bilateral economic pacts.

China was left out of the TPP, which had been led by the United States and Japan, and was meant in great part as a bulwark against China's strategic ambitions.

The speeches came just hours after Trump left China where he and Xi met several times on Wednesday and Thursday.

Trump, Xi Offer Asia Business Leaders Divergent Paths

 

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017.

 

 

The leaders of the United States and China offered starkly contrasting views of the direction for trade in Asia in separate speeches Friday to regional business leaders.

U.S. President Donald Trump told the APEC CEO Summit that he is willing to make bilateral trade agreements with any country in the Indo-Pacific region, but he firmly rejected multinational deals such as the 12 nation Trans Pacific Partnership, which was quickly abandoned in the first days of his administration.

“I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade,” Trump said. “What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.”

The U.S. president said that in the past when his country “lowered market barriers, other countries didn’t open their markets to us.”

From now on, however, Trump warned the United States will, “expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules. We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides and that private investment, not government planners, will direct investment.”

How to achieve those goals

But making that happen is something that is easier said than done.

China has already shown that it has no intention of playing by the rules, said Fraser Howie, co-author of the book "Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China's Extraordinary Rise."

“China has been in WTO terms simply much sharper and smarter than the Americans,” Howie said. “While the Americans went in with good faith thinking the Chinese would change and whatever, the Chinese never had any intention of changing.”

Howie added that trade and access issues are difficult and sophisticated, and so far Trump has a poor track record when it comes to follow through - be it his travel ban, the wall, healthcare or tax policy.

“Yes you’re going to get tough on them, but how do get tough without penalizing them,” he said. He added, “how can China be penalized when Xi Jinping is your best mate? It doesn’t make any sense.”

China has shown that it has no intention of playing by the rules, said Fraser Howie, co-author of the book Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.

“China has been in WTO terms simply much sharper and smarter than the Americans,” Howie said. “While the Americans went in with good faith thinking the Chinese would change and whatever, the Chinese never had any intention of changing.”

Howie added that trade and access issues are difficult and sophisticated, and so far Trump has a poor track record when it comes to follow through, be it his travel ban, the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, health care or tax policy.

“Yes you’re going to get tough on them, but how do you get tough without penalizing them,” he said. He added, “how can China be penalized when Xi Jinping is your best mate? It doesn’t make any sense.”

China's President Xi Jinping arrives for the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 10, 2017.
China's President Xi Jinping arrives for the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 10, 2017.

Chinese contrast

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country’s rise has been driven greatly by large-scale government planning, immediately followed Trump on the stage in Danang.

Xi embraced the multilateral concept, in particular calling for support for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which would harmonize regional and bilateral economic pacts.

China was left out of the TPP, which was led by the United States and Japan, and was meant in great part as a bulwark against China’s strategic ambitions.

Xi also termed globalization an irreversible trend, but said the world must work to make it more balanced and inclusive.

The speeches came just hours after Trump left China where he and Xi met several times Wednesday and Thursday.

 

Softer tone with China

In Beijing Thursday, the U.S. president had struck a markedly softer tone than in the past on touchy subjects such as North Korea and trade saying he had an “incredibly warm” feeling for Xi.

Trump noted the U.S. must change its policy.

“It’s too bad that past administrations allowed it go get so far out of kilter,” Trump said. “But we’ll make it fair, and it will be tremendous for both of us.”

The Chinese leader said Beijing’s relationship with Washington “now stands at a new starting point” and vowed to “enhance communication and cooperation on the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula” and other issues.

“For China and the United States, cooperation is the only viable choice, and win-win cooperation can take us to a better future,” said the Chinese president.

On North Korea

Much of Trump’s Asia tour has focused on North Korea, which is developing a nuclear and missile program in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Trump pressed Xi privately on the North Korea nuclear issue, Trump administration officials said. According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump told Xi, “You’re a strong man, I’m sure you can solve this for me.”

Speaking in Beijing, Tillerson said “there is no disagreement on North Korea” between the United States and China. The diplomat pointed out that the Chinese have been clear and unequivocal over two days of talks that they will not accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons.

“There’s no space between both of our objectives,” Tillerson said. “We have our own views of the tactics, the timing and how far to go with pressure and that’s what we spend a lot of time exchanging views on.”

Trump, Xi Begin Talks in Beijing; North Korea High on Agenda

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump is holding talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in which the U.S. leader has said he intends to press Beijing to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

At a welcoming ceremony early Thursday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the two leaders walked side by side on a red carpet. The U.S. and Chinese national anthems were played by a military band and ceremonial cannon fire from Tiananmen Square saluted Trump. A crowd of jumping and gleeful schoolchildren waved American and Chinese flags.

The two leaders began talks behind closed doors. In the early afternoon, they are to appear jointly before journalists and make statements.

It is the first visit by Trump to China, which is North Korea’s closest and only remaining significant ally. The U.S. president is expected to request China expel North Korean workers from the country and eliminate some of its other significant remaining dealings with Pyongyang.

In remarks made during their extended bilateral talks, Trump said to Xi, regarding North Korea: "I believe there is a solution to that as you do."

The talks between Trump and Xi will also deal with trade, a touchy subject because Trump has long complained about the trade deficit between China and the United States.

Children hold national flags before the arrival of China's President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017.
Children hold national flags before the arrival of China's President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017.

China’s trade surplus with the United States has widened by 12.2 percent in the past year, reaching a total of $26.6 billion, according to Chinese customs data.

"Past administrations allowed it to get so far out of kilter," Trump said.

Business deals

Yet, the Trump administration is showcasing several business deals signed during the China trip, including a deal for China’s biggest online retailer to buy $1.2 billion of American beef and pork.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said such business deals “are a good example” of how the United States “can productively build up our bilateral trade.”

Trump is also to meet Thursday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, whose position is similar to that of a prime minister.

President Donald Trump, second left, first lady Melania Trump, left, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second right, and his wife Peng Liyuan, right, stand together as they tour the Forbidden City, Nov. 8, 2017, in Beijing, China.
President Donald Trump, second left, first lady Melania Trump, left, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second right, and his wife Peng Liyuan, right, stand together as they tour the Forbidden City, Nov. 8, 2017, in Beijing, China.

Trump and his wife, Melania, were received with great pageantry on their arrival to China. The Trumps were also treated to a private visit to the Forbidden City, China’s ancient imperial palace. They also viewed an outdoor opera featuring costumes, music and martial arts.

After touring the Forbidden City, Trump told reporters, “We’re having a great time.”

President Donald Trump shakes hands with opera performers at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, Nov. 8, 2017.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with opera performers at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, Nov. 8, 2017.

The U.S. president arrived in Beijing a day after delivering a speech in Seoul, South Korea, in which he called on other nations to unite and “isolate the brutal regime of North Korea,” Trump said in his speech. “You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept,” he added.

In that speech to South Korea’s National Assembly, Trump had a forceful message for Pyongyang. He called on leader Kim Jong Un to give up all his nuclear weapons for a chance to step on to “a better path.”

Trump warned the North, “Do not underestimate us and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity and our sacred liberty.”

Backing the president’s words was the presence of three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear submarines, which the president said “are appropriately positioned” near the Korean peninsula.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech as South Korea's National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, top, listens at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 8, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech as South Korea's National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, top, listens at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 8, 2017.

'Total failure'

The U.S president referred to North Korea as “a total failure,” and a “twisted regime” ruled by a cult and a tyrant who enslaves his people — a characterization certain to provoke a harsh rhetorical reply from Pyongyang.

“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation,” said Trump in his speech. “All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea — to deny it any form of support.”

The U.S. leader had effusive praise for South Korea, contrasting its economic success with the dark situation in the North.

“The more successful South Korea becomes, the more decisively you discredit the dark fantasy at the heart of the Kim regime,” said the U.S. president.

The speech ended on a hopeful note, which is the Korean dream: the peaceful reunification of the peninsula. But with Kim’s weapons of mass destruction posing a greater threat, Trump warned, “the longer we wait, the greater the danger grows and the few the options become.”

President Trump generally took a more optimistic view of diplomacy during his visit to Seoul, which included meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He said progress has been made to diffuse heightened tensions in the region, a striking departure from the tone of his tweets in recent weeks suggesting talks with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear crisis were “a waste of time.”

Speaking on Air Force One on the approach to Beijing Wednesday, a senior White House official said President Trump and the South Korean leader had reaffirmed their commitment for a coordinated global pressure campaign to bring North Korea back to “authentic denuclearization talks,” while also remaining committed to use a “full range of military capabilities” to defend South Korea and Japan.

FILE - South Koreans protest against North Korea and Kim Jong Un during a rally near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 6, 2017.
FILE - South Koreans protest against North Korea and Kim Jong Un during a rally near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 6, 2017.

“Authentic” talks, the U.S. official said, would be without preconditions and would entail North Korea agreeing to “reduce the threat, end provocations, and move toward sincere steps to ultimately denuclearize.” Preconditions like refusing to put nuclear weapons on the table, the official said, “is a nonstarter” for the United States. The U.S. also maintains that any agreement would need to include verification of denuclearization efforts — a key sticking point in multi-nation negotiations that have been attempted in the past.

In a statement issued separately, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would also make a determination on whether the United States will designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism before the end of his visit to China.

It is likely the president will continue to send out tweets while in China, despite a Chinese block on Twitter. Thanks to communications gear aboard Air Force One, the official said “The president will tweet whatever he wants.”

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