Defense & National Security — US says North Korea shipping ammunition to Russia

The United States has accused North Korea of secretly sending Russia a “significant number” of artillery shells to help in its war in Ukraine.  

We’ll share what we know about the covert shipments plus a recent missile barrage from North Korea and the South’s response, a grim new watchdog report on Afghanistan and a new leader for the Space Force. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you?

Russia getting ammunition from North Korea: US

The United States says North Korea is secretly sending Russia a “significant number” of artillery shells. 

“We’re not talking dozens here. It’s a significant number of artillery shells,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday.   

Undercover: Biden administration officials believe North Korea is “covertly supplying” Russia and trying to make it appear as though the shells are being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa, Kirby said. He added that the secret shipments are “a sign of not only the degree to which North Korea is willing continue to bolster support Russia but a sign of Russia’s own defense articles shortages and needs.” 

Limited details: He did not provide a specific quantity of shells believed to be shipped or how they were being transported but said that U.S. officials are watching to see whether the shipments are received.  

U.S. officials in early September revealed that Moscow was in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from Pyongyang, a sign that the Kremlin is suffering from “severe” military supply shortages. 

No changes expected: Kirby stressed that the North Korean artillery shells are “not going to change the course of this war,” pointing to the West’s own efforts to supply Ukraine with military aid in the fight.   

“We don’t believe that they are in such a quantity that they would change the direction of this war or tangibly change the momentum either in the East or in the South” of Ukraine, Kirby said. 

Read the rest here 


Tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday after North Korea fired at least 23 ballistic missiles, leading South Korea to respond by launching its own missile barrage.  

In a statement, South Korea’s military confirmed that its northern neighbor launched at least 23 missiles throughout the day, firing 17 in the morning and six in the afternoon off of its eastern and western coasts, according to The Associated Press

What was fired?: South Korea’s military noted that the weapons fired by North Korea were all short-range ballistic missiles or suspected surface-to-air missiles, adding that North Korea also fired at least 100 artillery shells into the Northern Limit Line (NLL), an eastern maritime buffer zone South Korea created four years ago to reduce tensions between the two countries.  

Southern response: South Korean airplanes fired three air-to-ground missiles into the seas north across the NLL borderline in response to North Korea’s launches. 

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol vowed a “swift and firm response” to North Korea, referring to the aggressive moves as “territorial encroachment.”  

“President Yoon Suk-yeol noted North Korea’s provocation today was an effective act of territorial encroachment by a missile intruding the NLL for the first time since [the two Koreas’] division,” Yoon’s office said in a statement. 

Read that story here 

Watchdog points to dire conditions in Afghanistan

A government watchdog is offering a grim update on life in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal while chastising American agencies for rebuffing its attempts to review their efforts in the country since the Taliban takeover. 

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which has been reviewing multiple agencies’ work in the troubled nation for over a decade, said early Wednesday it has never faced this level of resistance to its oversight duties. 

Uncooperative: “SIGAR, for the first time in its history, is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full accounting of this U.S. government spending due to the noncooperation of several U.S. government agencies,” the agency wrote in its quarterly report to Congress. 

“The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers the majority of U.S. government spending for Afghanistan, and the Treasury Department refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity, while the State Department was selective in the information it provided pursuant to SIGAR’s audit and quarterly data requests, sharing high-level funding data but not details of agency-supported programs in Afghanistan.” 

Earlier: Some agencies rebuffed the inspector general multiple times, The Hill previously reported, with an October email indicating that USAID and the State Department had both “largely declined” to respond to requests for information following a June notice to lawmakers from SIGAR. 

A bleak assessment: The U.S. has provided more than $1 billion in aid to the people of Afghanistan since removing its troops from the country last year. 

  • But while SIGAR struggled to fully assess the U.S. government’s role in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, it was able to pull together a bleak assessment of conditions in the country since the U.S. exit. 
  • A U.S.-backed effort to promote a free press has largely evaporated under Taliban rule, as has most of the progress made in quality of life for women, whether in education, health care or the economy. 

Stepping backward: The watchdog reports the Taliban have essentially wiped out
30 years of developments, concluding that “current conditions are similar to those under the Taliban in the 1990s.”  

“SIGAR found that women and girls now face significant risks including reduced access to education and healthcare; loss of empowerment, including the ability to be economically and otherwise independent; and heightened personal safety and security risks,” the report noted. 

Read the full story here 

Space Force gets new Chief Space Officer

Gen. B. Chance “Salty” Saltzman on Wednesday became the second official to head the Space Force since it was formed in 2019. 

In a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., outgoing Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond transferred the role over to Saltzman. Raymond has been the head of the Space Force since late 2019 when it was created. 

‘Big shoes to fill’: “The Space Force would have to carry all the load associated with being a military service without anywhere near the resources associated with a traditional American military service,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said at the change of command ceremony. 

“[Raymond] and his team have met this challenge and positioned the Space Force for success. … Salty, you have some big shoes to fill, and I know you’re ready and we are lucky to have you as the second chief of space operations.” 

Contested space: Space has become an increasingly competitive domain with countries such as Russia and China looking to develop technology that could threaten U.S. satellite. 

To counter that, the Space Force in its 2023 budget request asked for $24.5 billion. 


  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will hold a discussion on “Putin’s Shifting Approach to Conflict and the War in Ukraine,” at 11 a.m.  
  • Government Executive Media Group will host a virtual talk on “Cyber Defenders: Collaborative Computing,” with Brian Mazanec, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office, at 12 p.m.  
  • The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on “Power projection: Accelerating the electrification of U.S. military ground vehicles,” with Assistant Army Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Douglas Bush, at 3:30 p.m. 


That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!