The commander of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula expressed concern Wednesday that North Korea’s new leadership will trigger a military conflict based on a “miscalculation.”
Before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. James Thurman said the North continues improving its ability to attack the South Korean capital of Seoul.
“The first thing I worry about every day is a miscalculation on somebody’s part that causes a conflict that he hadn’t planned for,” he said at a hearing on the security condition on the peninsula.
He also said he is worried about the asymmetric capabilities, including special operations forces and cyber-attack units.
“North Korea threatens Seoul with a mix of conventional artillery, multiple rocket launchers, and ballistic missiles, a significant percentage of which are positioned in protected positions dispersed across the western half of the peninsula,” he added. “They have a considerable number of indirect fire systems. And as expansive as Seoul is, any round coming our direction could potentially do damage.”
Thurman, who leads 28,500 American troops in the South, said Pyongyang’s plan to launch a satellite with a ballistic missile and continued verbal threats are increasing tensions on the peninsula.
He was skeptical that the North will stop the development of ballistic missiles despite restrictions under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“They will not -- I don’t believe -- give up their capabilities in regard to ballistic missiles, because they see that as a means to protect the regime,” he said.
Regarding the North’s power transition, he echoed many experts’ view that it seems to be moving relatively smoothly.
“To date, the leadership transition appears to be proceeding without discernible internal challenges and with significant Chinese political and economic support,” he said. “With the Kim Jong-un regime focused on continuity and consolidation of power, there are no indications the regime will depart significantly from Kim Jong-il’s policies.”
Jong-un seized power after the death of his father, reportedly caused by a heart attack, in December.
Thurman, however, questioned whether the new leader, believed to be in his late 20s, is in firm control of the regime on his own.
“I think he’s being closely advised by his uncle, Chang Song-thaek, and some of the other old, elite advisers that are shepherding him along,” he said.
Thurman dismissed media reports of a possible reduction in U.S. troop levels on the peninsula.
“There are no plans that I’m aware of that draw down any forces on the peninsula. There may be some adjustments inside those capabilities, but it’s -- those adjustments would be to improve our overall force posture,” he said. (Yonhap News)