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Pentagon Official Discusses Kabul Attacks, Possible North Korean Missile Test

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2009 – Today’s terrorist suicide attacks in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul and the possibility that North Korea soon will conduct another ballistic missile test topped a briefing to reporters today by a senior Defense Department official.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman described the Kabul attacks, which news reports say caused the deaths of at least 17 people and injured 46 others, as “brazen” acts of terrorism.

“It’s hard to defend against some of those types of terrorist activities,” Whitman said, referring to the terrorists’ strategy of employing suicide attackers. “I’m sure that the Afghan government will be taking a look at all aspects of how this attack was able to be as successful as it was. Clearly, [it’s] a tragic event.”

News reports say the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attacks, and that eight terrorists died in several suicide assaults near Afghanistan’s Justice Ministry and other government buildings.

Whitman said he hasn’t reviewed enough information to determine if the Taliban actually were responsible for the assaults. However, he said, the Kabul attackers, like the Taliban, targeted symbols of the Afghan government.

“They’re attacking those things that will make Afghanistan a successful nation,” Whitman said.

Whitman also told reporters that the Pentagon is aware of recent news reports saying North Korea allegedly is preparing to test-launch another ballistic missile. The North Koreans conducted an unsuccessful test of a Taepodong-2 missile in 2006.

Defense Department concerns about any North Korean missile testing are well-documented, Whitman said, noting that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 prohibits North Korea from engaging in any missile testing.

Additionally, Whitman said, any missile testing by North Korea would be counterproductive to efforts to bring stability to the Korean peninsula. North and South Korea have observed an uneasy truce since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

“It has always been our position that North Korea should refrain from provocative actions that might aggravate tensions in the region,” Whitman said.

More missile testing by the North Koreans, Whitman said, also could disrupt the Six-Party Talks, in which North Korea, South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia are negotiating an end to North Korea’s nuclear program.

Some news reports say that a Taepodong-2 missile may be capable of reaching Alaska. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters yesterday that the potential range of North Korea’s Taepodong-2 missile “remains to be seen.”

“I’m not going to get into intelligence reports” about North Korea’s missile program, Gates told reporters. “But, it would be nice if North Korea would focus on getting positive messages … to its negotiating partners about verification and moving forward with the denuclearization” initiative.

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