Speaking from Osan Air Base, South Korea, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford stated on Sunday that finding a diplomatic solution to the North Korea missile crisis is the focus, but the military is also preparing other options in case they become necessary, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Amid threatening exchanges between President Donald J. Trump and North Korea’s rogue leader, Kim Jong Un, the military is quietly supporting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s effort to use diplomatic and economic pressure to keep a full-out nuclear war at bay.
“As a military leader, I have to make sure that the president does have viable military options in the event that the diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign fails,” said Dunford. “Even as we develop those options, we are mindful of the consequences of executing those options, and that makes us have more of a sense of urgency to make sure that we’re doing everything we absolutely can to support Secretary Tillerson’s current path.”
Gen. Dunford began a scheduled swing through the region Sunday, stopping in South Korea to meet with President Moon Jae-in, along with newly appointed defense officials and commanders. Gen. Dunford will also visit Beijing and Tokyo this week, according to defense officials.
The U.S. military in the region is prepared for war, but it’s not really preparing for war, according to the report, which notes that there have been no additional forces sent to the Korean Peninsula since the crisis and no new ships or submarines deployed.
There are currently more than 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and they have not been put on special alert. Gen. Dunford and his wife, Ellyn, are traveling in the region this week, which is a further indication that there is no imminent threat of war.
Threats from North Korea are nothing new. “We should keep in mind that this is not the first time we’ve had this level of rhetoric, it’s not even the first time they’ve threatened Guam,” an official told the WSJ.
President Trump continues to let North Korea — and any other nation which might want to mess with the U.S. — know that the military is “locked and loaded” and ready to fight, and the military has been sending its own signals. In recent days, the U.S. publicly announced a flyover by a pair of its B-1B strategic bombers.
After each of North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile launches last month, the U.S.’s Eighth Army blasted missiles using the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, to counter the threat. South Korea launched its own Hyunmoo Missile II system at the same time.
Keeping military plans private, a pre-emptive strike on North Korea nevertheless remains unlikely, military officials have said.
Gen. Dunford said the reason for his visit to Seoul, which is located just 35 miles south of the border with North Korea, is to provide reassurance. He is expected to examine the options the U.S. and South Korean militaries could execute if a conflict were to come to pass, officials said.
He will also discuss deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile defense system. A THAAD battery was deployed near a golf course in South Korea this spring to help defend against any missile launches from the north. So far, two of the six launchers have been deployed, and the U.S. and South Korea are now in talks to deploy the system with its full complement of launchers, U.S. Pacific Command officials said.
The U.S. and South Korea will begin their annual joint military exercises, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, in the near future. The exercises are conducted every year to test the integration of U.S. and South Korean forces. UFG typically includes an additional 200 to 300 U.S. troops.
U.S. defense officials said the exercise isn’t expected to amount to a large show of force, and there are no plans for expansion under the current circumstances.
As Guam prepares for the potential of an attack, U.S. military officials acknowledge that North Korea probably couldn’t hit a U.S. target if they tried.
The North Korean leader hasn’t proven he can make the technology work with any precision, an official said. But North Korea has moved faster to develop its capabilities than the U.S. believed it would. Pacific Command officials said they have to take Mr. Kim at his word.
“They have proven through these recent launches that they have increasing range there,” the U.S. Pacific Command official said. “We have to take these threats seriously.”
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