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US Official: North Korea's Nuclear Capabilities Growing


A man in South Korea watches a TV news program showing a reported missile launch conducted by North Korea, Oct. 20, 2016. The U.S. military called the event a "failed" North Korean missile launch.

North Korea now has the capability to launch a nuclear weapon, but it may not be able to hit its intended target, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The Pentagon believes Pyongyang can mount a warhead on a missile, but North Korea has not developed the capabilities needed for the warhead to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and strike a specific area, the official told reporters Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is the threat that keeps me awake at night,” the senior military official said. “And that's why they continue to test their systems out there.”

Army's I Corps ready to fight

In March, a top U.S. admiral said that North Korea may have figured out how to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a long-range missile, bringing Pyongyang closer to its goal of developing a weapon capable of reaching continental U.S.

Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests so far this year and the country has made steady progress since Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011.

In the event of a North Korean attack, Lt. General Stephen Lanza, the commander of the Army's I Corps based on the U.S. Pacific coast, said his troops are ready to “fight tonight.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commander of the Army's I Corps, speaks during the Washington State Service Member for Life Transition Summit, Oct. 21, 2014.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commander of the Army's I Corps, speaks during the Washington State Service Member for Life Transition Summit, Oct. 21, 2014.

Multinational exercises a must

I Corps is headquartered in Washington state, but Lanza said the corps has several troops positioned forward in Hawaii to aid tens of thousands of U.S. troops already stationed in Korea should an attack arise.

In an interview with VOA, Lanza stressed the importance of multinational military exercises to prepare nations on how to work together in critical times.

The U.S. Army conducts heavy-equipment military exercises known as Pacific Pathways each year in the region. Lanza says that South Korea will be one of four stops on the next Pacific Pathway, which is scheduled in 2017.

I Corps also plans to conduct annual war games called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian with South Korea in August.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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