The Pentagon has disputed a report by NBC News claiming the United States is planning a preventative strike against North Korea if it decides to conduct another nuclear weapons test. However, reports early Friday morning indicate the U.S. is in fact assessing military options against North Korea, and North Korean officials have acknowledged the threat of a preventative U.S. strike.
Over the past week, reports have indicated that satellite images show North Korea may be planning its sixth nuclear weapons test, and the U.S. has mobilized the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group into the region. A report Thursday afternoon from NBC News claimed the U.S. could strike the North Korean nuclear testing site with tomahawk missiles fired from two strategically positioned Navy destroyers if it decides to carry out the test. This has since been challenged by the Pentagon:
It’s unclear who the original source of the claim was and the reasoning for making this information public. Reports from the region claim there is nothing to suggest any such strike is going to occur yet.
It is also unclear whether reports indicating the military options the U.S. is assessing on North Korea include a preventative or retaliatory strike should a the country go forward with another nuclear test.
The original version of this post follows below:
The obvious risk would be a resulting strike from North Korea against South Korea, effectively rekindling full-scale war not seen since the armistice agreement at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Earlier this week, North Korea threatened the U.S. with a nuclear strike if it attempted to interfere with testing, but it is not believed it has the capability to pose a serious nuclear risk at long range.
From NBC News:
South Korea’s top diplomat said today that the U.S. would consult with Seoul before taking any serious measures. “U.S. officials, mindful of such concerns here, repeatedly reaffirmed that (the U.S.) will closely discuss with South Korea its North Korea-related measures,” foreign minister Yun Byung told a special parliamentary meeting. “In fact, the U.S. is working to reassure us that it will not, just in case that we might hold such concerns.”
“Two things are coming together this weekend,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, former commander of NATO and an NBC analyst. “One is the distinct possibility of a sixth North Korean nuclear weapons detonation and the other is an American carrier strike group, a great deal of firepower headed right at the Korean Peninsula.”
The U.S. is aware that simply preparing an attack, even if it will only be launched if there is an “imminent” North Korean action, increases the danger of provoking a large conflict, multiple sources told NBC News.
“It’s high stakes,” a senior intelligence official directly involved in the planning told NBC News. “We are trying to communicate our level of concern and the existence of many military options to dissuade the North first.”
Recent satellite images have revealed an increase in excavation debris around North Korea’s nuclear testing site, as well as a slow in activity, which could suggest plans for another test soon. It is also believed that North Korea may use the nuclear test as part of this Sunday’s birthday celebration of leader Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, founder of the current North Korean regime.
Reports indicate that the U.S. has been in frequent communication with both South Korea and China about the situation, with China sending top negotiators to discuss the escalating tensions with North Korean leadership. Russia said it was “gravely concerned” about U.S. intentions.
President Donald Trump has claimed that the U.S. would go it “alone” if it had too, later clarifying that to mean with the aid of U.S. allies. Let’s just hope we make it through the weekend without nuclear war.
Update, 7:30 PM: A Fox News correspondent and other reporters are claiming the Pentagon is denying the NBC report of a planned preventative strike:
Additionally, reports indicate the Air Force is prepared to confirm a nuclear test should one occur.
Update, 8:05 PM: The headline and text of the article has been altered to clarify that plans for a preemptive strike have been counter-reported, and that the NBC report suggested a “preventative strike” but was misreported, and still unconfirmed.
Update, 8:25 PM: Here’s an update from Anna Fifield, Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post, who is currently in Japan analyzing the situation: