Overnight Defense: US skeptical of North Korean nuclear test claims

THE TOPLINE: U.S. officials and lawmakers responded Wednesday to North Korea's claim of a successful nuclear test with condemnation and skepticism.

North Korea's state-run news agency claims the country successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.

If true, it would mark a significant step forward in North Korea's nuclear program, which has previously only tested less powerful atom bombs.

The White House condemned the test, but said initial analysis "is not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test."

Some GOP lawmakers and presidential hopefuls blasted the administration, saying President Obama's lack of leadership allowed for the test.

Other lawmakers called for more sanctions to be placed on North Korea. The U.N. Security Council said after an emergency meeting it was working on new sanctions.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and South Korean Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo also spoke Wednesday about possible responses to the test.

"Secretary Carter and Minister Han agreed that any such test would be an unacceptable and irresponsible provocation and is both a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the entire Asia-Pacific region," the Pentagon said in a written statement.


HOUSE GOP TO DISCUSS ISIS WAR MEASURE: House Republicans will start listening sessions Thursday to discuss a measure authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), The Hill has learned. 

The sessions will be held by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), whose panel would have jurisdiction over the authorization, according to a committee aide on background.

The three sessions will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Royce has been holding informal discussions on an AUMF for more than a month now, and in December convened a meeting with his subcommittee chairs to discuss the issue.

The sessions will be among Republican members of the committee for now. They are intended to gauge what Republicans would like to see in a new AUMF, and not to produce a concrete proposal.


TWO GITMO DETAINEES TRANSFERRED TO GHANA: Another two detainees have been transferred out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby, both citizens of Yemen, have been sent to Ghana. Under current U.S. law, Guantanamo transfers to Yemen are banned.

Atef admitted to being a member of the Taliban, according to military files published by The New York Times. He was also alleged to have been a fighter in Osama bin Laden's 55th Arab Brigade, a guerrilla organization sponsored by al Qaeda.

He had been held at Guantanamo since January 2002.

Al-Dhuby was alleged to have been a member of al Qaeda who "probably engaged in hostile activities against coalition forces," according to the military files. He had been at Guantanamo since May 2002.

There are now 105 detainees at Guantanamo. Another 15 have been approved for transfer, with reports indicating the moves could come soon.


PENTAGON CHIEF DEFENDS SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS: Defense Secretary Ash Carter is defending the Navy's patrol of the disputed South China Seas following questions from Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRomney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination Trump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees MORE (R-Ariz.) about the operation.

Carter said the patrol was "conducted in full accordance with international law," and was a "a normal and routine operation," in a letter to the Senate Armed Services chairman first obtained and published by U.S. Naval Institute News.

In October, the Navy sent the USS Lassen destroyer within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago built by China.

The move enraged Chinese officials, who called it "dangerous" and "provocative." China has been building artificial islands to bolster its claims to the disputed waters.

U.S. officials have said little publically about the operation.

McCain asked Carter to clarify the Navy's intentions after reports surfaced the ship operated under what is known as "innocent passage" -- when a ship takes measures to convey it is passing through waters belonging to another nation without any provocation.

Analysts have said innocent passage could tacitly affirm China's claims to the disputed waters.

In his letter, Carter said the Navy conducted its operations under innocent passage because it is unclear whether any country has a legitimate territorial claim.

The operation "involved a continuous and expeditious transit that is consistent with both the right of innocent passage, which only applies in a territorial sea, and with the high seas freedom of navigation that applies beyond any territorial sea," he wrote.



-- Petraeus steps before Benghazi committee

-- Benghazi panel nearly running longer than the 9/11 Commission

-- Clinton: North Korea test a 'reminder of what's at stake'

-- Benghazi chairman 'may at some point' see Hollywood blockbuster


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