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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. military could win a fight with North Korea but it would be messy, the top U.S. commander said Tuesday.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked to reporters Tuesday about the capability of U.S. forces to respond to North Korea or any other potential foe given ongoing U.S. commitments.

If faced by a new threat, U.S. forces would have to use more on “brute force” than surgical strikes because of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pace said.

“You need precision intelligence to drop precision munitions, and a lot of our precision intelligence assets are currently being used in the Gulf region, so some of those would not be available if we had to go some place else,” Pace told reporters on Tuesday. As a result, U.S. forces would have to use more unguided “dumb bombs,” resulting in more collateral damage, Pace said.

Such an air campaign would be more akin to World War II or the Korean War rather than the precision-guided air war during the initial invasion of Iraq, he said.

Pace stressed that the U.S. military has the troops to fight if another war broke out, but he conceded U.S. troops are being used “faster than we would like to” and stateside units are not as equipped as they would be if there were no wars going on.

Senior Army leaders recently told The (Baltimore) Sun that the Iraq war is having an effect on training.

There is scant time to train on the high-intensity skills and practice large mechanized maneuvers when combat brigades return home, senior officers acknowledge. With barely 12 months between deployments, there is hardly time to fix war-damaged gear and train newly arrived soldiers in counterinsurgency operations. Some units have the time to train but find their tanks are either still in Iraq or in repair depots.

There is growing concern, The Sun reported Gen. Richard Cody as saying, that the Army’s skills are eroding and that if the war in Iraq continues at current levels, the United States eventually could have “an Army that can only fight a counterinsurgency.” As the Army’s vice chief of staff, Cody is broadly responsible for manning, equipping and training the force.

North Korea recently tested a nuclear weapon amid stalled six-party talks about its nuclear program. Asked what kind of threat North Korea poses, Pace said that it is not known if the North Korean leadership has the intent to use the weapons available to them or not.

“Applying Western logic to the leadership in [North] Korea is not something that I would personally would want to bet my future on,” he said.

Pace warned potential enemies not to underestimate the “overwhelming combat power” that U.S. forces can unleash if needed.

“It would not be as clean as we would like it to be, but it would certainly be sure, and the outcome would not be in doubt,” he said.

The (Baltimore) Sun contributed to this report.

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