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Defense officials said there are concerns that any new North Korean military provocation will trigger a larger conflict on the peninsula if South Korean forces take limited military action.

South Korea conducted a nationwide civil defense drill on Wednesday amid unofficial signs that nonessential U.S. military personnel and their families are packing up and leaving the country, ostensibly for the Christmas holidays.

Pentagon spokesmen, however, said there are no directives or orders for people to leave the country.

Army Col. Jonathan Withington, U.S. Forces Korea spokesman, told Inside the Ring that “the normal transition of inbound and outbound personnel continues to include command-sponsored families.”

Another sign of growing concern over a possible new conflict is the agreement signed on Monday between the Pentagon and South Korean military officials to bolster deterrence against North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

A defense official said the committee is being set up amid concerns that the U.S. protective nuclear “umbrella” will not be sufficient to deter a North Korean attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Senior defense officials formally agreed to the new Extended Deterrence Policy Committee during a meeting of the Security Policy Initiative in Seoul.

The committee is “a consultation mechanism intended to coordinate U.S.-[Republic of Korea] defense policies on issues related to extended deterrence on and around the Korean Peninsula,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, noting that the main focus is on “threats from North Korea.”

Creation of the committee comes “at a time when North Korea’s provocative attacks on [South Korea] and the unveiling of its uranium program highlight the need for closer alliance cooperation in assuring relevant and effective deterrence concepts and capabilities for the peninsula,” he said.

However, the panel is “not a temporary reaction to North Korean provocations,” he added.

The committee “will provide transparency and reassurance that extended deterrence for the ROK is credible, capable, and enduring, by fostering joint study of deterrence challenges and developing policy alternatives to respond to the changing threat environment.”

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke in Tokyo on Dec. 9 and warned that Northeast Asia is “more volatile than it’s been in much of the last 50 years.”

“Much of that volatility is owed to the reckless behavior of the North Korean regime, enabled by their friends in China,” Adm. Mullen said.

“The North’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons - highlighted by the disclosure of a new enrichment facility - flies in the face of international sanctions, violates U.N. Security Council resolution and only contributes to further instability,” he said.

Adm. Mullen reaffirmed the U.S. defense commitment to both South Korea and Japan during the visit.

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