BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The top U.S. military officer said Sunday the Pentagon had bolstered its missile defenses and taken other steps because he “can’t take the chance” that North Korea won’t soon engage in some military action.
Heightened tensions with North Korea led the United States to postpone congressional testimony by the chief U.S. commander in South Korea and delay an intercontinental ballistic missile test from a West Coast base.
North Korea, after weeks of war threats and other efforts to punish South Korea and the U.S. for joint military drills, has told other nations that it will be unable to guarantee diplomats’ safety in the North’s capital beginning Wednesday.
U.S. Gen Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who just wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan, was asked in an Associated Press interview whether he foresees North Korea taking military action soon.
“No, but I can’t take the chance that it won’t,” he said, explaining why the Pentagon has strengthened missile defenses and made other decisions to combat the potential threat.
Dempsey said the U.S. has been preparing for further provocations or action, “considering the risk that they may choose to do something” on one of two nationally important anniversaries in April — the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and the creation of the North Korean army.
U.S. Gen. James Thurman, the commander of the 28,000 American troops in South Korea, will stay in Seoul as “a prudent measure” rather than travel to Washington to appear this coming week before congressional committees, Army Col. Amy Hannah said in an email Sunday to the AP.
Thurman has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense to excuse his absence until he can testify at a later date.