US 'steps up' plans for N Korea strike
THE Pentagon has stepped up planning for attacks on North Korean nuclear facilities and is bolstering US nuclear forces in the region, The Washington Times reported overnight, citing officials familiar with the process.
The officials said the planning includes detailed programs for using special operations commando raids or Tomahawk cruise missile strikes to disable North Korea's plutonium-processing facility at Yongbyon.
"Other than nuclear strikes, which are considered excessive, there are several options now in place. Planning has been accelerated," a Pentagon official was quoted as saying.
A Pentagon spokesman said that while the military always plans for a variety of contingencies, the story "mischaracterised the approach (to North Korea) within the department."
"The president has made it clear we are pursuing a diplomatic approach through the six party talks and with the international community to reach a peaceful and diplomatic solution," said Major David Smith.
The Times said the military planning was given new impetus by North Korea's October 9 nuclear test, and by growing opposition to its nuclear program by China and South Korea.
A second senior US defence official quoted in the article said the United States had recently assured Japan and South Korea that it would use nuclear weapons to deter North Korea.
"We will resort to whatever force levels we need to have, to defend the Republic of Korea. That nuclear deterrence is in place," the senior official said.
The official declined to say what nuclear forces the United States has in the region, but the report said other officials said they include bombs and air-launched missiles stored in Guam that could be delivered by B-52 and B-2 bombers.
Nine nuclear-missile submarines regularly deploy to Asian waters from Washington state, the report said.