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US: North Korea Not Planning Conventional Attack - 2003-03-13

The top U.S. military commander in South Korea has told Congress there are no signs the North is planning a conventional military attack. But he and another senior military officer, said U.S. and South Korean military forces are fully prepared to handle any eventuality.

General Leon LaPorte appeared before the House Armed Services Committee, which is holding hearings on the Defense Department's budget for the current year.

He said North Korea's 1.2 million-man army poses a credible threat, with significant artillery and missile capabilities. General LaPorte summed up the challenge facing U.S. and South Korean forces.

"We are concerned that we continue to establish and demonstrate a firm deterrent posture, so that [the] North Korean military, and [the] Kim regime, does not miscalculate and think that the United States is not paying attention to what's going on while it may be involved someplace else in the world," he said.

While there are no signs Pyongyang plans to launch a conventional attack on the South, General LaPorte said "there is always an opportunity for mis-calculation." He added "I am confident, as we sit here today, that we could defeat a North Korean attack into South Korea, if it was to occur."

He was then asked by Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez if that would be the case "even if we have, what we anticipate we will have in the next few days, a war in Iraq on our hands, as well as the terrorist threat that we are vetting out throughout the world?" General LaPorte responded, "Yes ma'am, I am confident we could do that."

Admiral Thomas Fargo, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command described the chances of war breaking out on the Korean peninsula as "very low." He said U.S. military strength in the Asia-Pacific region remains strong.

"Our deterrent posture is very strong right now. As a matter of fact, the forces that I have arrayed in the Pacific today, are more significant than a year ago," he said.

Both Admiral Fargo and General LaPorte acknowledged strains in the U.S.-South Korea relationship over the past year.

However, in response to several lawmakers' questions, General LaPorte said "there is no crisis" in the relationship.

Admiral Fargo said annual joint military exercises now underway with South Korea are not in any way provocative.