In a grim warning to US lawmakers, the Pentagon says a ground invasion of North Korea is the only way truly end Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons program.
Rear Admiral Michael Dumont made the assessment on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a letter to Congressman Ted Lieu.
Admiral Dumont said calculating “even the roughest” potential casualty figures would be extremely difficult.
He also gave some detail on what the first hours of a war would involve.
“The only way to ‘locate and destroy – with complete certainty – all components of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs’ is through a ground invasion,” he wrote in response to Mr Lieu’s questions about a potential conflict.
The risks involved included a potential nuclear counter-attack by North Korea while US forces attempted to disable its “deeply buried, underground facilities”, he said.
“A classified briefing is the best venue for a detailed discussion,” he added.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the comments as, “the most bleak assessment”.
Two House Democrats, in a letter to the Pentagon, had asked about casualty assessments in a possible conflict with North Korea, and
Admiral Dumont noted that the US is evaluating North Korea’s ability to target heavily populated areas of South Korea with long-range artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles.
He pointed out that Seoul, the South’s capital with a population of 25 million, is just 50 kilometres from the demilitarised zone that separates the two Koreas.
The amount of casualties would differ depending on the advance warning and the ability of US and South Korea forces to counter these attacks.
“A classified briefing would be the best place to discuss in detail the capability of the US and its allies to discuss capabilities to counter North Korea’s ability to respond with a nuclear weapon and eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons located in deeply buried, underground facilities,” Dumont said.
He also mentioned the possibility that chemical and biological weapons.
Ms Feinstein said she was pleased that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was accompanying President Donald Trump during his Asia trip, when North Korea is a main issue.
In a joint statement Saturday, 15 Democratic lawmakers and one Republican- all military veterans – called the assessment that a ground invasion would be required to destroy the North’s nuclear arsenal “deeply disturbing” and that such an action “could result in hundreds of thousands, or even millions of deaths in just the first few days of fighting”.
They also said the Trump administration “has failed to articulate any plans to prevent the military conflict from expanding beyond the Korean Peninsula and to manage what happens after the conflict is over.”
– With agencies