LaPorte: N. Korea blast under review
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Ongoing U.S. and South Korean intelligence analysis has yet to definitively solve the mystery surrounding last week’s reported explosion in North Korea, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea said Friday.
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, holding a news conference for the Ministry of National Defense press corps, said a “full and rapid” sharing of intelligence has ensued since first reports of a massive explosion — leading to speculation over whether North Korea had conducted a nuclear weapons test — surfaced Sept. 12.
“I don’t know the exact purpose, if there was an explosion,” LaPorte said in a question-and-answer session. “We know what North Korea has said. … Intelligence is both a process and a product. And many times, you have to have an extended process to develop quality products. It’s going to take us time to answer all of the second- and third-order questions associated with this incident.
“I am confident we will eventually know what happened, and what didn’t happen.”
LaPorte noted the limitations of “technical intel” in the stead of “human intel.” The former refers to satellite photography, geophysical analysis and other high-tech methods; the latter, referring to reports from actual sources on the ground, is notoriously hard to cultivate in North Korea’s closed society.
Since the first reports, including largely debunked reports of a miles-wide “mushroom cloud,” some doubt has been shed on whether any explosion occurred at all, though the North Koreans have explained it as part of a hydroelectric power construction project. South Korean and U.S. officials have largely ruled out the possibility of a nuclear test.
Separately on Friday, senior South Korean government officials said they have yet to see convincing evidence that a massive explosion actually occurred.
In his conference, held at the “White House” command building on Yongsan Garrison, LaPorte also said neither USFK nor the Combined Forces Command had any indication North Korea was planning a so-called “October surprise” demonstration of its alleged nuclear weapons capabilities.
“No, we do not have information that North Korea is conducting, or planning to conduct, a nuclear test,” LaPorte said. “Do they have the capabilities? I think North Korea could best answer that question.”
Noting that he is not a policymaker, LaPorte said any response to a possible escalation of the nuclear crisis likely would be handled through diplomatic channels.
LaPorte also commented on the proposed reduction and relocation of U.S. forces in South Korea. Within the next four years, most U.S. forces will be located on two large military hubs in the Pyongtaek and Pusan regions. And under a proposal being negotiated, the Pentagon plans to remove 12,500 of its troops from South Korea by the end of next year.
South Korea has asked for the reduction to be delayed by at least one year.
“Most importantly, we need to be certain that we can guarantee the security of the Korean people,” LaPorte said, noting that any reduction in forces would not weaken the deterrent effect of the U.S. military presence.
Any reduction in numbers of troops on the ground would be more than made up for by an increase in military capabilities, he said.
“Both our governments and our militaries are looking at appropriate force levels for the future,” LaPorte said. “The important point is we must collaborate and consult to ensure that we have a complementary force. And that is what is going on now.”