Military Quietly Prepares for a Last Resort: War With North Korea

Military Quietly Prepares for a Last Resort: War With North Korea by Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and John Ismay – New York Times

Across the military, officers and troops are quietly preparing for a war they hope will not come.

At Fort Bragg in North Carolina last month, a mix of 48 Apache gunships and Chinook cargo helicopters took off in an exercise that practiced moving troops and equipment under live artillery fire to assault targets. Two days later, in the skies above Nevada, 119 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division parachuted out of C-17 military cargo planes under cover of darkness in an exercise that simulated a foreign invasion.

Next month, at Army posts across the United States, more than 1,000 reserve soldiers will practice how to set up so-called mobilization centers that move military forces overseas in a hurry. And beginning next month with the Winter Olympics in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang, the Pentagon plans to send more Special Operations troops to the Korean Peninsula, an initial step toward what some officials said ultimately could be the formation of a Korea-based task force similar to the types that are fighting in Iraq and Syria. Others said the plan was strictly related to counterterrorism efforts.

In the world of the American military, where contingency planning is a mantra drummed into the psyche of every officer, the moves are ostensibly part of standard Defense Department training and troop rotations. But the scope and timing of the exercises suggest a renewed focus on getting the country’s military prepared for what could be on the horizon with North Korea.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both argue forcefully for using diplomacy to address Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. A war with North Korea, Mr. Mattis said in August, would be “catastrophic.” Still, about two dozen current and former Pentagon officials and senior commanders said in interviews that the exercises largely reflected the military’s response to orders from Mr. Mattis and service chiefs to be ready for any possible military action on the Korean Peninsula…

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This article covers a lot of ground.

A couple of points. Obviously this is a very US centric article. It does slightly make the point that Korea is not Iraq and Afghanistan (although in a post-conflict or regime collapse situation we are likely to see irregular warfare conducted by the remnants of the nKPA and the civilian population on a scale that will make Iraq and Afghanistan pale in comparison - so it is important that the US military does no unlearn everything it has learned about stability operations and irregular warfare). But the article and the description of the exercises leaves out one very important point that is what makes it so different than Iraq and Afghanistan: The bulk of the fighting in north Korea will be done by South Korean ground forces (Army, Marine, and Special Operations). The article does mention the ROK air force which will play an important role but what is important to emphasize is that the ROK military is a much more capable force than the Iraqis and Afghans and due to the nature of the political and security situation and that the fight (or collapse) has to end in unification to finally solve the Korea question it is critical that the ROK military be in the lead in the north. Of course the US is going to bring unique capabilities to bear (e.g., counter-WMD) but it is important to remember that a war in Korea is going to the the biggest "by, with, and through" operation ever conducted and we need to ensure that the ROK military is successful in combat, in irregular warfare, in stability operations, and in support to the unification process.