U.S. and Western officials say there are growing worries about a new conflict breaking out in Korea, based on evidence that a North Korean mini-submarine fired the torpedo that sank the South Korean coastal patrol ship Cheonan, killing 46 crew members.
South Korea's government is under pressure to respond to the attack and is reviewing its options, including a possible military response to the March 26 sinking, Western sources said.
Seoul is expected in the next two weeks to reveal the results of an international probe that includes U.S. Navy investigators.
Preliminary intelligence assessments show that the planning for the operation to sink the Cheonan began late last year and included North Korean navy exercises with special operations forces that ultimately were used in the attack.
An intelligence source said the attack also appears linked to leadership succession in North Korea.
Additionally, senior North Korean military officials, including the chief of the general staff in Pyongyang, were involved. There is also indication of involvement by a three-star general, Kim Myong-guk, who had been demoted from four-star rank after a November 2009 North-South naval clash. The general recently appeared in a photograph in the North Korean state-run press as having regained his fourth star after the sinking.
The South Korean government recently lodged an official diplomatic protest to China over the visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, saying Beijing was ignoring South Korean concerns about North Korea's involvement in the Cheonan sinking.
A State Department official said the United States is backing its key Asian ally and demanding a resolution of the incident before restarting the stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program. The official said the Obama administration joined Seoul in issuing its own protest to China over Mr. Kim's visit to China.
U.S. officials are worried about a new missile proliferation threat: covert Russian missiles being marketed by Moscow that are deployed inside launchers disguised as shipping containers.
U.S. intelligence units in charge of monitoring arms proliferation were alerted by a marketing video produced by a Russian company that makes the missiles.
"Naturally, there are concerns about this kind of thing," said a U.S. official. "But at this point, there don't seem to be a hell of a lot of takers."
The worry is that the missiles could be sold to Iran, which in the past has supplied its Chinese-made anti-ship missiles to Hezbollah.
The disguised missile is being offered by the Russian arms conglomerate Concern Morinformsystem-Agat, which states on its website that with its Club-K and Club-U missile systems "almost every type of ship can be turned into missile ship."
One major case of such missile proliferation was revealed in 2006, when the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah used a Chinese-made C-802 anti-ship cruise missile, obtained from Iran, to attack and sink an Israeli patrol boat during the summer conflict with Israel.
As the trial of Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe was set to open this week in Norfolk, Va., an unlikely witness from afar waited for the telephone to ring, reports special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.
The defense team for Petty Officer McCabe, a Navy SEAL who is charged with striking a captured terrorist in Iraq, wanted Rep. Dan Burton to testify via telephone about the huge amount of public support for the defendant and two other SEALs already acquitted in the case.
But the call to Mr. Burton never came. The military judge ruled against a defense motion to dismiss the assault charge before the hookup with the congressman could be made.
Inside the Ring asked Mr. Burton, one of the SEALs' biggest supporters in Congress, what he would have told the judge. The three commandos had captured Ahmed Hashim Abed, an accused al Qaeda terrorist who is suspected of planning the killings of four Blackwater security guards in Fallujah in 2004.
"There's no question that the overwhelming percentage of the American people are very, very upset that three Navy SEALs who risked their lives to capture this al Qaeda terrorist … that they're even being considered for a court-martial," said Mr. Burton, Indiana Republican.
Mr. Burton said manuals used to train al Qaeda terrorists direct them to "always claim torture or mistreatment if they are captured, and that's exactly what this guy has done. And it's made it into an international incident."
"And it sends a terrible, terrible signal to our military personnel in the field, the men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq, that they're even considering prosecuting these people in a court-martial for doing their job because some guy who did a horrible thing to four contractors is saying that happened," the congressman added.
Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, who heads U.S. Central Command's special operations component, originally moved to punish the three SEALs at nonjudicial proceedings. But the SEALs maintained their innocence and rejected the offer. Gen. Cleveland then filed criminal charges and ordered the trials.
In December, Mr. Burton spearheaded a letter signed by 40 Republican lawmakers to Gen. Cleveland demanding that he drop all charges.
Petty Officer McCabe is expected to hear a jury verdict in Norfolk by Friday.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Paxton, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disclosed on Wednesday the military's strategy for taking control of the key Afghan city of Kandahar in coming weeks.
"Our operation in Kandahar is named Hamkari, which in Dari means cooperation," Gen. Paxton told the House Armed Services Committee.
The focus of the operation is to provide "credible and effective governance that gives the population hope for the future."
"More effective government will deliver security, basic services, development and employment," he said. "If these ends are achieved, the people of Kandahar will reject the insurgency and support the government."
A combination of military and civilian efforts will seek to provide security and "drive insurgents from the city and outlying districts by steadily restricting their freedom to operate," he said.
"Hamkari is not about highly kinetic military operations," Gen. Paxton said, noting that it is about using resources to bolster the Afghan forces.
Gen. Paxton said that insurgents in Afghanistan continue to have enough freedom to operate, as the recent string of suicide bombings shows. He said the lack of police forces and government resources were a continuing problem.
The Rev. Graham defended
A group of 36 Republican House members on Wednesday pressed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a letter to reverse the Pentagon's decision to block the Rev. Franklin Graham from attending the National Day of Prayer set for Thursday. He had been asked to speak at the meeting.
Mr. Graham, son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham, was disinvited several weeks ago after pro-Muslim critics complained about his public statements on Islam. He told MSNBC this week that he was disinvited because he had once called Islam an "evil" religion.
Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who helped organize the letter, said in a statement he wants the younger Mr. Graham re-invited.
"To rescind Franklin Graham's invitation for these overtly political reasons is a disgrace that is obviously being done to placate a few outspoken critics, and an affront to those ideals that are the essence of America and that are reflected throughout America's history," Mr. Franks said.
A statement on the Rev. Billy Graham's website Wednesday stated "even if President Obama fails to intervene to allow him to lead a National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon Thursday, Franklin Graham will still be there — praying for the U.S. military and his own son who is serving in Afghanistan."