- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

U.S. military bases in South Korea have been put on high alert for the second time in three years as a precaution after North Korea announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing from the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War.

U.S. forces have served in some ways as a tripwire between the North and the South since the end of that conflict. The alert status, however, requires a series of important decisions for U.S. commanders.

William Nash, a retired major general who commanded the 1st Armored Division and later served as the U.N. civil administrator for Kosovo, said the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea was going through war plans and making sure nonessential personnel on bases were being evacuated.

“First of all, you gather all the essential people,” Mr. Nash said, “Leaves and passes are probably restricted. You go through all the contingency plans and procedures. Obviously with the families in Korea, you have to review the noncombatant evacuation process. Review your war plans and your deployment orders. Meanwhile, you have a lot of folks going through the process of checking vehicles and weapons for serviceability. If there is deferred maintenance, you are working through the end of the night to finish that up.”

A duty officer for United States Forces Korea, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, told The Washington Times that the base was on Watch Condition 2, the second highest level of alert. Watchcon 2 means that a greater amount of surveillance activity will be targeted at North Korea, particularly if the North Koreans continue to test missiles. The U.S. put its forces in Korea on the same alert status when North Korea first tested a nuclear device in 2006.

The duty officer added that the base was on “force protection condition bravo plus.” The standard army definition of this status is that there is a greater risk for terrorist attack, but the posture can be maintained for weeks at a time without undue hardship.

Mr. Nash said that when a base is on high alert, the commanding general would also be demanding more intelligence.

“You keep abreast of the intelligence situation and update anything you might know about the enemy,” the retired general said. “You are looking into the latest intel reports and you make sure you have requests for specific information you are interested in.”

Other than that, Mr. Nash said the new alert levels may require extra patrols around the base and more conversations with Pacific Command, the South Korean military and policymakers in Washington.

North Korea’s announcement was prompted by South Korea’s decision to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, a group of more than 90 nations that stop and search ships suspected to be carrying nuclear materials or ballistic missiles. South Korea acted after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon on Monday.