- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2017

North Korea’s recent tests of long-range, nuclear-capable missiles, which could potentially hit targets as far away as the continental United States, continues to be Washington’s best argument for maintaining a series of controversial anti-missile systems in neighboring South Korea.

The Pentagon’s decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense or THAAD system to the Korean peninsula has roiled regional leaders, including newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Since taking office earlier this year, he has vowed to adjust Seoul’s deal with Washington to allow the THAAD systems on South Korean soil.

But the weapon’s necessity in the region has become abundantly clear, in the wake of a pair of successful test launches by Pyongyang of prototype intercontinental ballistic missiles over the past month, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday.

“A lot of people question the need for THAAD, they question the requirement for [the weapon]” in South Korea, Capt. Davis told reporters at the Defense Department. “The North Koreans are being far better spokespeople for [THAAD] … they are making the case for us rather effectively.”

His comments come after the Pentagon green lighted a series of intentionally provocative military operations in the Pacific, beginning hours after the July 29th missile test by North Korea, culminating Sunday with a flyover by a pair of nuclear-capable U.S. bombers over the peninsula.

U.S military officials conducted their own missile intercept test using the THAAD battery based in Kodiak, Alaska — which is reportedly in range of Pyongyang’s new, long-range missile. During Sunday morning’s test, missile crews with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Kodiak used the THAAD weapon to take out a mock mid-range ballistic missile launched from a C-17 in the skies above the Pacific.

Aside from opposition from Seoul, Pyongyang and their allies in Beijing have also railed against the weapon’s deployment, with North Korea characterizing the weapon’s placement in the region as an act of war. Beijing has also long opposed the weapon’s deployment so close to China’s borders, arguing the THAAD system could be used to take out its own ballistic missile sites, along with targets inside the North.

Pentagon argues the anti-ballistic missile system is critical to defending the peninsula, as well as the Japanese coast, from North Korea’s expanding long-range missile capability. That capability took a huge step forward late last month. Pentagon officials confirmed the successful test launch by North Korean forces Friday.

Launched from Mupyong-ni in northern central North Korea, the missile traveled roughly 1,000 kilometers, or more than 600 miles, before crash-landing in the Sea of Japan, U.S. defense officials said. The missile tested Friday reached higher altitude than the July 3 test, which until this week had been the highest and farthest missile test carried out by Pyongyang.

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