Pentagon Says Securing North Korean Nuclear Sites Would Require "Ground Invasion"

With President Donald Trump arriving in Japan today to kick off a 10-day Asia tour, the Washington Post is reporting that the only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons sites “with complete certainty” would be a ground invasion, and in the event of conflict, Pyongyang could use biological and chemical weapons, the Pentagon told lawmakers in a newly released assessment of what war on the Korean Peninsula might look like.

The Pentagon, in a letter to lawmakers, said that a full discussion of U.S. capabilities to “counter North Korea’s ability to respond with a nuclear weapon and to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons located in deeply buried, underground facilities” is best suited for a classified briefing.


The letter also said that Pentagon leaders “assess that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons” and that the country “has a long-standing chemical weapons program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood and choking agents."


The Pentagon repeated that a detailed discussion of how the United States would respond to the threat could not be discussed in public.


The letter noted that Seoul, the South Korean capital, is a densely populated area with 25 million residents. 

The Pentagon’s candid assessment appears to validate claims made by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who famously said in an interview with the American Prospect before he was forced out of his White House job that there are no “good” military options for toppling the Kim regime. A ground invasion, he said, would lead to millions of casualties in the South Korean capital of Seoul from conventional weapons fire.

It’s release also coincides with the president’s push to rally the North’s neighbors in the region to do more to punish the restive Kim regime, which conducted a test of a hydrogen bomb - also its sixth nuclear test overall - in early September.

The North has been notably quiet since Sept. 15, when it launched a medium-range missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Aside from the usual condemnations of military drills involving US and South Korean, and threats that the North is seriously considering testing a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific. Some have speculated that a partial collapse at the North’s Pyunggye-ri nuclear testing facility has been partly responsible for the delays.

The letter to lawmakers was written by Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, the vice director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, in response to a request for information from two House members about “expected casualty assessments in a conflict with North Korea,” including for civilians and U.S. and allied forces in South Korea, Japan and Guam.

In the letter, Dumont explains how a ground invasion would unfold.

Any operation to pursue North Korean nuclear weapons would likely be spearheaded by U.S. Special Operations troops. Last year, President Barack Obama and then-Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter gave U.S. Special Operations Command a new, leading role coordinating the Pentagon’s effort to counter weapons of mass destruction. SOCOM did not receive any new legal authorities for the mission but gained influence in how the military responds to such threats.


Elite U.S. forces have long trained to respond in the case of a so-called “loose nuke” in the hands of terrorists. But senior officials said SOCOM is increasingly focused on North Korea.

Given the difficulty and tremendous potential for casualities that would accompany a ground invasion, Dumont affirmed that the military supports the present strategy of pursuing a diplomatic solution to the simmering standoff between the North and the US.

Dumont said the military backs the current U.S. strategy on North Korea, which is led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and focuses on ratcheting up economic and diplomatic pressure as the primary effort to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to stop developing nuclear weapons. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., have emphasized that during trips to Seoul this year.


In contrast, President Trump, who goes unmentioned in the Pentagon letter, has taunted Kim as “Rocket Man” and expressed frustration with diplomatic efforts, hinting that he is considering preemptive military force.


“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 1, adding, “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!"


On Oct. 7, Trump added in additional tweets that North Korea had “made fools” of U.S. negotiators. “Sorry, but only one thing will work!” he said. 

Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Pentagon has often pointed to the massive risk that North Korean weaponry pose to South Koreans living In Seoul. But the military has never before publicly revealed so much about its plans for a hunt for North Korea’s underground weapons.

Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said that Dumont and other Pentagon officials had no additional comment about the letter.

A senior US military official in South Korea told WaPo that while the 28,500 US troops in South Korea maintain a high degree of readiness, he “has to believe” that North Korea does not want a war, given all of the nations aligned against it.

“If you open the history books, this is not the first time that we’ve been in a heavy provocation cycle,” the official said. On the side of South Korea and the United States, he said, “there is no action taken without extreme consideration of not putting this in a position where a fight is going to happen."

Dumont’s letter also notes that “we have not seen any change in the offensive posture of North Korea’s forces."

A statement by 16 lawmakers, released simultaneously with the Pentagon letter, urged Trump to stop making “provocative statements” that impede diplomatic efforts and risk the lives of U.S. troops.

One lawmaker cited estimates that a ground invasion of the North would leave 300,000 people dead in the first couple of days.

The Pentagon’s “assessment underscores what we’ve known all along: There are no good military options for North Korea,” said the statement, organized by Lieu and Gallego and signed by 14 other members of Congress who are veterans, all but one of them Democrats. In a telephone interview, Lieu said that the intent of asking the Pentagon for information was to spell out the cataclysmic consequences of war with North Korea and the aftermath.


“It’s important for people to understand what a war with a nuclear power would look like,” said Lieu, citing estimates of 300,000 dead in the first few days alone. More than 100,000 Americans are potentially at risk.


Lieu, who spent part of his time in the Air Force on Guam preparing for military action against North Korea, called the letter a confirmation that a conflict would result in a “bloody, protracted ground war.” The Joint Chiefs, he believes, are “trying to send a message to the American public,” he said.


“This is grim,” Lieu said. “We need to understand what war means. And it hasn’t been articulated very well. I think they’re trying to articulate some of that."

The question now is: Will this report undermine Trump’s efforts to push the US’s allies in the Pacific to do more to peacefully pressure the Kim regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program. China and Russia have for months been pushing a plan that would see the North freeze its nuclear program in exchange for the US withdrawing its THAAD missile defense systems from South Korea.

The Kim regime has repeatedly said it will never give up its nuclear weapons, which it believes are essential for the survival of the regime.


AGuy Lurk Skywatcher Sun, 11/05/2017 - 22:35 Permalink

"Surely the much vaunted interceptor systems could just take down all of the nukes as they fire them? Unless of couRse the interceptors don't actually work"

Yup the intercepters are unreliable. NK can also use short range missiles that would just take a minute or two to reach targets in SK. Seoul has 25M People and is close to the NK border"

NK would likely launch dozens or more missiles (some Nuke and some not). Current interceptor systems are only capable of targeting just one or a few missiles at a time. Not a full missile attack.

"There is only a limited number of them... so start a war, sit off the coast and shoot them down. No invasion needed."

You didn't read the "full" article. NK also has Biological weapons. Its possible that a release of NK biological weapons could create a global pandemic.

Perhaps you never watched the 1980's movie wargames, which made an extremely pragmatic statement about nuclear war: "The only winning move is not to play the game".

In reply to by Lurk Skywatcher

therealestg9 veritas semper… Sun, 11/05/2017 - 22:10 Permalink

Isn't it crazy how...manufactured...some of these "crises" feel? Like with Clinton it was the Serbian War, with Bush it was 9/11 all laid out and perfectly planned just a year after his election, with Obama he had bin Laden all planned out for him to pull the trigger, then Ukraine and Syria which had already been planned out and were just waiting for him to get elected to his 2nd term so he could pull the trigger on those...It seems the CIA and MIC have already run through the plans and simulations for North Korea and Iran and have handed them over to Trump to pull the trigger. Everything is so fucking scripted and artificial, I wonder when the last genuine conflict or major event actually took place...

In reply to by veritas semper…

squid Sun, 11/05/2017 - 19:51 Permalink

Which is precisely WHY the NORKS want an atomic bomb(s).So that the fucking U (we blowup any third world shit-hole we like) UofA will have a moment of pause. Fuck the mainland of the America, the Pentagon doesn't give a shit about that, they only care about their precious hardware. Its losing a carrier task force they are worried about so that is what the NORKS should be concentrating on. And the marine base in Okinawa and the Base in South Korea. I've got nothing against US servicemen but when you work for Jew over-lords you ARE going to get caught in the cross fire. Squid

cherry picker Sun, 11/05/2017 - 19:56 Permalink

I am thinking that for many religious people they believe the end of times are a coming, but maybe those books were put together the wrong way.Maybe we all blow each other to smithereens or unleash a super virus and the only people that are left is one man and one woman to start life over again and a few other former humans who managed to survive. :)That explains why there is some evidence of great civilizations eons ago on this planet and huge populations which are no longer around.  It is a never ending cycle and explains artwork of men throwing stones at mammoths.

AGuy Herdee Sun, 11/05/2017 - 22:50 Permalink

"An EMP attack over the continental U.S. would result in social disaster for America. Back to the stone age."

NK does not have a device capable of a continential NEMP. A NEMP cable of devastating CONUS would need to be at least 5Mt. Currently NK ICBMs can hit the CONUS with a max yield of around 300Kt (0.3Mt).

My guess is that NK would target US west coast cities, Japan & SK with its limited Nuke capability. that said a limited nuke war would be devastation. It would shutdown US-Pacific trade for an extended period and have a deep economic impact. Since the US imports a lot of machinery, replacement parts from Asia, a US-Asia trade disruption would be a big problem for US businesses and consumers.

In reply to by Herdee

HushHushSweet Endgame Napoleon Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:42 Permalink

Yes, yes you did. You did vote for war. You voted for MAGA. The core tenet of MAGA is American superpower status, specifically military superpower status. What better way to MAGA than to showcase American military superiority by attacking and defeating a sworn enemy. All the shiny hardware comes out for everyone to oooh and ahhhh over. That'll MAGA, fer shur.You voted for Trump, the mouthpiece and willing handpuppet of the MIC. You voted for Trump, the billionaire businessman who knows firsthand that war is good for business.How could you even for second imagine that a vote for MAGA was not a vote for war?MAGA = Eternal War with interchangeable enemies of convenience.It's no longer IF the bombs will finally drop on America, but WHEN."Those who live by the sword, die by the sword."

In reply to by Endgame Napoleon

RopeADope Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:15 Permalink

Pentagon says it needs to put THAAD launchers into North Korea in order for first strike capability against China's easternmost nuclear missiles. This would cut flight time down to where the Chinese launchers can be destroyed before they have a chance to react.

Dickweed Wang RopeADope Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:26 Permalink

Are you fucking serious??  If so you're insane!  China would NEVER launch nukes against the US unless attacked first.  For one thing the USA is China's largest customer in the world, by far and nuking your best customer is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  This bullshit going around the net about China and Russia planning on invading the US is just that . .  total bullshit.  They both know damn well that to do that would involve an insurgency war against a well armed population they could never win.  Get fucking real . . .

In reply to by RopeADope

Winston Churchill RopeADope Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:09 Permalink

That  would be the bluff of force in this case.Little Kim seems to his know poker very well.He is sitting pat with four aces,and he knows it.US credibility is going down faster than a hollywood starlet on Weinstein.This is a no win situation,anymove simply makes it worse for the US. A FF simply won't work either,that playbook is worn out.We are just going to have to accept the Norks as a nuke power,normalising relations with them wouldbe the smart move.N.Korean  policy and smart never seem to have met,which is why we are,where we are.

In reply to by RopeADope

rejected Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:14 Permalink

Ground Invasion.... LOL.The US military hasn't the training not the experience to fight a well armed and determined foe.Worse,,, there are no MacArthur's anymore.  Just a bunch of kiss ass lifers looking to get retirement.If America allows this then stand by for major casualties and Kim can easily get those nukes in the air long before the US can reach their position.South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Americans in the Area could end up destroyed.  If  Nukes fly, America can get ready for some serious radiation illnesses.And I haven't even brought in China or Russia who may not take kindly to this shit on their doorstep.

Dickweed Wang truthalwayswinsout Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:31 Permalink

Most of their weapons are 30 plus years old and literally don't work . . . Bullshit pal.  That kind of complacency and arrogance is what gets your ass kicked in a real war.  They put probably 75% of their GDP into defense spending and their own R&D.  Like their South Korean counterparts they are pretty good at their own engineering and science so don't ever underestimate them.

In reply to by truthalwayswinsout

truthalwayswinsout Dickweed Wang Sun, 11/05/2017 - 21:07 Permalink

Bullshit idiot boy. They don't even have enough supplies to fight for more than 2 weeks at the most. They can barely feed their current military. Most of their military exercises consist of population control and not any kind of training needed for leadership to get good at fighting a war. When they have war exercises the lack of ammunition being expended is the first sign that something is really wrong. Even the Iraqis under Saddam used a lot of ammunition during exercises.They are dangerous because they have nukes and chemical weapons and can hurt you if you don't strike first with massive and overwhelming power.To fight even anywhere near what they did in the Korean War they need massive supplies from Russia and China. And that is not going to happen.And what gets your ass kicked in a real war is poor politically correct leadership which these days we seem to have a lot of.  We have 4 times the Admirals and Generals we had in WWII and during WWII most of our Admirals and Generals were sub standard. Even those who were considered military geniuses by us rewriting history were in reality dolts.

In reply to by Dickweed Wang

5000yl rejected Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:39 Permalink

Thats why Obama passed an executive order to draft women. As the men continue to get cut in half by artillery you have to replace them with something. So naturally after the men you have to send women. This has been in the making for a long time. Two fronts. Middle East and Korea.I swore on the day Obama passed that order, if any man comes looking for my sister he will die on the front walk. American soldier or not. They will not take her freely.

In reply to by rejected

Quinvarius Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:26 Permalink

So how many nukes are we going to let them have before we handle the situation?  Because it is going to happen due to North Korea's actions and stated goals.  So how many nukes are we going to let them have to start it with?

Dickweed Wang Quinvarius Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:37 Permalink

Let them build their nukes . . so . . fucking . . what.  They'll never come close to having even a small percentage of the number that the US has so the bottom line is they will never use them first because if they did they know they would be totally wiped out by a real nuclear power.  Their whole plan in getting nukes was to prevent the US and their sycophant allies from pulling an Iraq or Afghanistan on them, and justifiably so.

In reply to by Quinvarius

itstippy Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:28 Permalink

This summer the ball hornets built a huge nest in the lean-to where I store firewood for my hunting shack.  It was those highly aggressive black and white fuckers.  I decided that an all-out assault on the ball hornets' homeland would be unwise.  I stacked my firewood under a tarp instead.

Dickweed Wang itstippy Sun, 11/05/2017 - 20:43 Permalink

I decided that an all-out assault on the ball hornets' homeland would be unwise . . . LMFAO!!!  Where I live in Michigan we call those "white faced hornets" and they are mean motherfuckers for sure.  When I was about 10 I was stupid enough to throw a rock at one of their nests in a tree (the ones that look like gray paper footballs).  Even riding my bike away from them as fast as I could I bet I got stung 20 times . . . I'll never forget that.  Good analogy.

In reply to by itstippy