RICHARD LARDNER, AP
WASHINGTON (AP) — The senior U.S. Navy officer overseeing military operations in the Pacific said Thursday that the crisis with North Korea is at the worst point he’s ever seen, but he declined to compare the situation to the Cuban missile crisis decades ago.
“It’s real,” Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Harris said he has no doubt that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un intends to fulfill his pursuit of a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States. The admiral acknowledged there’s uncertainty within U.S. intelligence agencies over how far along North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are. But Harris said it’s not a matter of if but when.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” Harris said.
The Trump administration has declared that all options, including a targeted military strike, are on the table to block North Korea from carrying out threats against the United States and its allies in the region. But a pre-emptive attack isn’t likely, U.S. officials have said, and the administration is pursuing a strategy of putting pressure on Pyongyang with assistance from China, North Korea’s main trading partner and the country’s economic lifeline.
Harris said North Korea’s pursuit of an atomic arsenal and the long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons comes at the expense of the North Korean people, who are isolated and forced to live with a lifeless economy.
“In confronting the North Korean threat, it is critical that the U.S. be guided by a strong sense of resolve both publicly and privately in order to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not his knees,” Harris said.
Despite the depravity, Harris said it’s a “hollow hope” to think that North Koreans will rise up and topple Kim Jong Un. Harris said Kim Jong Un is revered and considered a “god king” by many North Koreans.
In a show of military might, the U.S. has sent a massive amount of American weaponry to the region. A strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is in striking range of North Korea. A U.S. missile defense system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, is being installed in South Korea.
Harris said he has adequate forces to “fight tonight” against North Korea if that were to become necessary. But the admiral said he lacks all the attack submarines he needs and has no capable defense against the thousands of artillery pieces North Korea could launch at South Korea. There are about 28,500 U.S. military personnel serving in South Korea.
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