- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

North Korea’s military forces have not yet shifted into a war footing on the peninsula, despite claims by Pyongyang that the White House’s sharp rhetoric condemning the Kim Jon Un’s regime are equivalent to a declaration of war.

While the North’s forces positioned along its border with South Korea remain stagnant, American troops stationed along the country’s demilitarized zone continue to be on a high state of alert, prepared to respond to any action regime forces may take, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress Tuesday.

“While the political space is clearly very charged right now, we haven’t seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces. We watch that very carefully. We clearly have postured our forces to respond in the event of a provocation or conflict,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to remain the top U.S. military officer under the Trump administration.

Aside from preparations being taken by U.S. Forces-Korea, American commanders in the Pacific “have taken all proper measures to protect our allies, the South Koreans, the Japanese, the force, as well as Americans in the area,” he told committee members.

Despite such precautions, the four-star Marine Corps general made clear that thus far, Pyongyang is holding its fire in the wake of the ongoing war of words between Washington and the North. “What we haven’t seen is military activity that would be reflective of the charged political environment” between the White House and North Korea, he said.

His comments come a day after White House National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said the U.S. cannot rule out the possibility of war again breaking out on the Korean peninsula, as a result of the North’s continued provocations and repeated flouting of international restrictions barring the country’s development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile systems.

“What we hope to do is avoid war, but we cannot completely discount that possibility,” Gen. McMaster said Monday during a national security symposium in Washington sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War.

The three-star Army general’s comments came hours after North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho told reporters that Mr. Trump’s comments that the country “wouldn’t be around much longer” if it continued to threaten the U.S. was akin to a declaration of war. “At last, he declared a war on our country,” Mr. Ri told reporters in New York City.

Pyongyang has repeatedly launched missile test shots into international waters around Japan and other U.S. allies in the region. Most recently, Pyongyang fired a pair of missile shots over the island chains of northern Japan. It was the first time any North Korean missile crossed over into Japanese airspace.

U.S. military and intelligence officials estimate Pyongyang could have a reliable, long-range, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile fielded by the end of 2018. On Tuesday, Gen. Dunford said it was simply “a matter of time” before the North fields such a weapon.

“Whether it’s 3 months or 6 months or 18 months, it is soon, and we ought to conduct ourselves as though it is just a matter of time, and a matter of very short time, before North Korea has that capability,” he said.

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