‘I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming’

Washington: he US Defence Secretary and a top US general have asked American troops to be prepared for war as White House appeared to be exhausting its options for diplomacy in stand-offs.

Warning that storm clouds were gathering over the Korean Peninsula, US defence secretary Jim Mattis told soldiers that the US military must do its part by being ready for war, even as diplomats were trying their last-ditch efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff. “My fine young soldiers, the only way our diplomats can speak with authority and be believed is if you’re ready to go.” Mattis told soldiers and airmen of the elite 82nd Airborne Division at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina during a tour of US bases.

Mattis’ comments came as the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously approved tough new sanctions against North Korea, compelling nations to sharply reduce their sales of oil to the reclusive country and send home all North Korean expatriate workers within two years. Such workers are seen as a key source of revenue for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s cash-strapped government.

General Robert Neller, the US Marine Corps commandant, separately warned about 300 Marines in Norway that they should be prepared for battle.

“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” he told the Marines, according to Military.com. “You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence,” he said.

General Neller was visiting a Marine rotational force near Trondheim, about 482 kilometres north of Oslo. The Marines have been stationed there since January. Their presence in Norway is intended to support operations by Nato and the US European Command, as well as to help the Marine Corps facilitate training in cold weather and mountainous conditions.

But General Neller and other Corp leaders told the force they should be prepared for a change in their peacetime mission, should the need arise.

In particular, General Neller predicted the Pacific and Russia to be the focus of any conflict in the future outside of the Middle East. “Just remember why you’re here,” Sergeant Major Ronald Green told the troops. “They’re watching. Just like you watch them, they watch you. We’ve got 300 Marines up here; we could go from 300 to 3,000 overnight. We could raise the bar.”

As the Marines’ top general, Neller is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon’s senior-most leadership team responsible for contingency planning. But it was unclear to what extent his comments were indicative of an actual war.

With unusual fanfare, President Donald Trump unveiled a new National Security Strategy last week that cast China and Russia as competitors for global power and potential threats to the United States. “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity,” the document states. “They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

Trump and other top US officials have made repeated threats about US military action. Some officials have described the messaging as twofold in purpose: to pressure North Korea to enter into negotiations on getting rid of its nuclear arsenal, and to motivate key regional powers China and Russia to put more pressure on Pyongyang so a war is averted.

For the military, the focus has been on ensuring soldiers are ready should the call come.

At Fort Bragg, Mattis recommended the troops read TR Fehrenbach’s military classic This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness, first published in 1963, a decade after the Korean War ended. “Knowing what went wrong the last time around is as important as knowing your own testing, so that you’re forewarned — you know what I’m driving at here,” he said as soldiers listened in silence. “So you gotta be ready.”

– Washington Post (With inputs from AP)

Is the US ready for a Korean war?

The US has nearly 28,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, but if war came, many thousands more would be needed for a wide range of missions, including ground combat.

Asked about recent reports that families of US service members in South Korea might be evacuated, US defence secretary Jim Mattis stressed his belief that diplomacy could still avert a crisis. He said there is no plan now for an evacuation. “I don’t think it’s at that point yet,” he said, adding that an evacuation of American civilians would hurt the South Korean economy.

He said there is a contingency plan that would get US service members’ families out “on very short notice”.

Mattis also said he sees little chance of Kim disrupting the Winter Olympics, which begin in South Korea in February. “I don’t think Kim is stupid enough to take on the whole world by killing their athletes,” he said. But he also seemed determined to steel US troops against what could be a costly war on the Korean Peninsula. “There is very little reason for optimism,” he said.

– Washington Post

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