North Korea stays mum on U.S. soldier who crossed into country

Seoul, South Korea –

South Korea’s military said on Saturday that North Korea fired several cruise missiles into the West Sea, the second firing event this week apparently in protest of a US nuclear submarine docking in South Korea.

While North Korea has stepped up its barrage of missile launches in recent months, it has publicly remained silent for five days about the fate of US troops who crossed the heavily armed Korean border into North Korea this week.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launches were detected around 4 a.m., but did not immediately report on the number of missiles fired or how far they flew. The US and South Korean forces said they were closely analyzing the launch.

In recent years, North Korea has tested a newly developed cruise missile in what it calls a “strategic” test, hinting at its intention to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Experts say the primary missions of these weapons will include attacking naval assets and ports. Cruise missiles, designed to fly like small planes and navigate over radar-obscured terrain, are part of North Korea’s growing arsenal aimed at overwhelming South Korea’s missile defenses.

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from near its capital Pyongyang on Wednesday. It flew about 550 kilometers and landed in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula.

The missiles flew roughly the distance Tuesday between Pyongyang and the South Korean port city of Busan, where the USS Kentucky made its first visit to South Korea by a US nuclear submarine since the 1980s.

Also Tuesday, Private US Soldier. Travis King crossed the border into North Korea at full speed while inspecting the North-South Armistice Village.

North Korean state media have yet to comment on King, and the country has not responded to U.S. requests to clarify where he is being held or in what condition. U.S. officials have expressed concern about King’s safety, given North Korea’s past abuses of some American detainees. Analysts expect it could be weeks or months before North Korea releases meaningful information about King. The country could wield the most leverage and prolong his detention to add urgency to U.S. efforts to secure his release.

Some experts say North Korea could use King as propaganda or as a bargaining chip to extract political and security concessions from Washington, perhaps linking his release to a reduction in U.S. military activity with South Korea.

“With so many moving parts, it’s important not to attribute causality to mere correlation of events,” said Leif Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in South Korea. “But the North Korean missile provocation does not portend easy negotiations to secure the release of Travis King.” “Unauthorized border crossings endanger personnel, expose them to political and even military incidents, and could be used for North Korean hostage diplomacy.”

The United States and South Korea have expanded their joint military exercises and agreed to increase the regional deployment of US strategic assets such as bombers, aircraft carriers and submarines as a show of force against North Korea, which has launched about 100 missiles since early 2022.

The allies have also launched a new nuclear contingency planning conference, partly aimed at allaying South Korean public anxiety over North Korea’s growing nuclear threat and quelling domestic voices calling for an independent deterrent to be pursued.

North Korea’s defense minister issued a veiled threat on Thursday suggesting the Kentucky docking in South Korea could be the basis for a nuclear strike by North Korea. North Korea has used such rhetoric before, but this comment highlights just how tense relations are now.

South Korea’s defense ministry said on Friday that the Kentucky deployment and the US-South Korea nuclear emergency planning conference were “defense response measures” to counter the North Korean threat. In a statement, the ministry “strongly warned” that any nuclear attack by North Korea on its allies would face an “immediate, overwhelming and decisive response”, which it said would result in the end of the North Korean regime.

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