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N. Korea lacks ability to strike US ‘with any degree of accuracy,’ general says

In this July 4, 2017, file photo distributed by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from right, inspects the preparation of the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in North Korea's northwest.

KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY/KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP, FILE

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 19, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea “clearly” has the range to reach the United States, but it lacks the ability to strike “with any degree of accuracy,” a senior U.S. military official says.

On July 4, the North tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts said could reach Alaska if launched at a normal trajectory. It marked a major advance toward Pyongyang’s efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could target the U.S. mainland.

“I do agree in principle with the assessment that the North Koreans are moving quickly to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capability,” Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.

But, he said, the communist state has not shown it has “the capacity to strike the United States with any degree of accuracy or reasonable confidence of success” due to doubts about its guidance and control abilities.

South Korea's intelligence agency also has said it does not believe North Korea has perfected the re-entry technology that would be needed for successful ICBM targeting.

Officials have said the missile – called Hwasong-14 – reached an altitude of about 1,550 miles and traveled about 580 miles before crashing into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

It was fired at a steep angle – a technique called lofting – to avoiding threatening neighboring countries. But experts have put its potential range at more than 5,000 miles.

“On range they clearly have the capability,” Selva said in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

Tensions have spiked over the North’s progress with its nuclear weapons program despite punishing U.N. economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure. It has conducted five nuclear tests, including two last year, in addition to its missile-testing program.

Selva also said he was “reasonably confident in the ability of our intelligence community to monitor the testing but not the deployment of these missile systems.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his forces “are very good at camouflage, concealment and deception,” he added.

The United States has about 28,500 servicemembers deployed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

President Donald Trump’s administration has called for strengthening sanctions in response to the latest provocations while stressing military action remains on the table.

When asked about the possibility of pre-emptive military options against the North, Selva said, “I think we have to entertain that potential option.”

"We need to think seriously about what the consequences of that action might be," Selva said, adding it was important to strengthen U.S. missile defense systems at the same time.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

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