US commander vows combat preparedness

Defense Minister Song Young-moo, left, and Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris salute while inspecting an honor guard before their meeting at the headquarters of the command in Hawaii, Thursday. / Yonhap

By Jun Ji-hye

Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), vowed Friday to maintain combat preparedness against the growing threats from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

He made the comments at a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo during the latter’s visit to PACOM in Hawaii.

“Adm. Harris reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which states that a North Korean attack on one is an attack on both nations,” said PACOM spokeswoman Marine Capt. Cassandra Gesecki. “He emphasized U.S. preparedness to fight tonight if called upon, using its full range of military options in defense of the U.S. homeland and its allies.”

Adm. Harris also called for greater trilateral cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the U.S. to better deter the North’s threats.

The meeting took place after the Kim Jong-un regime launched what was presumed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan, Tuesday, which traveled about 2,700 kilometers before landing in the North Pacific Ocean.

The provocation was construed as the North showing its ability to strike areas around Guam as it previously threatened to do with four Hwasong-12 IRBMs. Guam is located about 3,000 kilometers from Pyongyang.

Minister Song emphasized the importance of maintaining a robust Republic of Korea-U.S. combined defense posture in order to provide support for the diplomatic and economic sanctions and pressure aimed at peacefully denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

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Song said he felt reassured to witness the strong readiness posture of PACOM, expressing gratitude for its personnel’s dedication and their efforts to support peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia, according to the spokeswoman.

Stressing the importance of maintaining close communication and dialogue channels among PACOM, Seoul’s defense ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at all times, Song pledged to work to expand ROK-U.S. military cooperation.

The spokeswoman added Minister Song and Adm. Harris discussed the ongoing deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea.

A typical THAAD battery consists of six truck-mounted launchers, 48 interceptors (eight per launcher), a fire control and communications unit and an AN/TPY-2 radar. Two launchers and the radar are already deployed operational in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The allies are now working to deploy four more launchers to complete the battery.

Song and Harris stressed that THAAD is a purely defensive system to protect South Korean citizens and U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, apparently wary of protests from China, which has been claiming that the system’s radar could be used to spy on its military activities.

Before meeting Adm. Harris, Song met with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in Washington, Wednesday, during which they also stressed the need to keep making diplomatic and economic efforts to curb the North’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

Mattis said his country was “never out of diplomatic solutions” in resolving Pyongyang’s threats, contradicting U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that dialogue with the North “is not the answer.”

Song will return home Saturday after wrapping up his five-day tour to the U.S., the Ministry of National Defense said.

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