NYT "파병 규모 100명 넘을 듯…중동 배치 특수부대 한국에 보낼수도"
남북 해빙 무드에도 미국선 한반도 전쟁 대비 훈련 지속
(서울=연합뉴스) 권혜진 기자 = 남북 회담을 계기로 북미 대화 가능성까지 대두되지만 미국 내에선 북한과의 전쟁에 대비한 군사 훈련이 조용히 진행되고 있다고 뉴욕타임스(NYT)가 14일(현지시간) 보도했다.
지난달 노스캐롤라이나주 포트 브래그에선 48대의 아파치 헬기와 치누크 헬기를 동원해 군부대와 장비를 이동하는 훈련이 전개됐다. 이틀 뒤 네바다주 상공에선 제82공정사단 소속 병사 119명이 C-17 수송기에서 낙하산 강하 훈련을 했다.
다음달에는 미 전역의 군사 주둔지에서 예비역 사병 1천여명이 해외에서 신속히 군병력을 이동해야 할 때를 대비한 동원센터 구축을 훈련한다.
미 국방부는 또 내달 한국 평창에서 열리는 동계올림픽에 특수작전부대(SOF)를 증파하려는 계획도 하고 있다.
파병 규모는 100명을 훌쩍 뛰어넘을 전망이다. 미 당국은 지난 2014년 브라질 월드컵을 포함해 세계적인 행사에 특수부대를 보냈는데 통상 규모가 100여명 선이었다. 한반도의 긴장 상황 등을 고려할 때 평창올림픽에 파견하는 인원은 이보다 훨씬 많을 것으로 예견된다. 그러나 예상처럼 많지는 않을 것이라는 시각도 있다.
중동에 배치된 특수부대원이 한국으로 이동 배치될 가능성도 언급됐다.
플로리다주 탬파에 본부를 둔 미 통합특수전사령부(SOCOM)의 토니 토머스 사령관(대장)은 지난 2일 사령부 소속 장병 및 군무원과 간담회에서 한반도의 긴장이 고조되면 오는 5월이나 6월께 중동에 배치된 육군 특전단 등 특수부대원들이 한국으로 이동 배치될 가능성을 시사했다. 그러나 토머스 사령관 대변인은 이같은 내용이 언론에 보도되자 아직 정해진 것은 없다고 선을 그었다.
미 국방부 내부 관계자들은 이같은 SOF 증파 계획을 반(反)테러리즘 노력과 연관된 것이라고 밝혔다.
하지만 다른 관계자들은 궁극적으로 이러한 계획이 이라크와 시리아에 파견한 것과 비슷한 성격의 한국 주둔 태스크포스를 구성하려는 초기 단계의 움직임일 가능성에 무게를 두고 있다.
NYT는 이런 미국의 군사적 움직임이 표면상으로는 국방부의 훈련 및 병력 재배치로 보이지만 훈련이 이뤄진 시점이나 범위를 고려하면 북한과의 전쟁에 대비한 것으로 보인다는 것이 안팎의 평가라고도 전했다.
포트 브래그에서의 훈련은 최근 몇년간 수행한 공중강습훈련 중 최대 규모로 이뤄진 훈련의 일부였다. 또 네바다주 넬리시 공군기지에서의 연습훈련에 사용된 공수부대 강하용 수송기 수도 이전 훈련보다 배나 됐다.
북한과의 전쟁을 대비한 이런 훈련의 배후에는 제임스 매티스 국방장관이 있다고 관계자들은 전했다.
매티스 국방장관과 조지프 던퍼드 합참의장이 그간 북한 문제에 있어 외교적 해결을 중시하면서도 외교적 해법을 진전시키기 위해서는 군사적 역할을 부정할 수 없다는 입장을 취해왔다.
NYT가 인터뷰한 20여명의 전·현직 국방부 관료와 사령관들도 한반도에서의 군사 행동 가능성을 대비해 준비 태세를 갖추라는 매티스 장관과 각군 총장의 명령에 따라 이같은 훈련을 시행했다고 입을 모았다.
도널드 트럼프 미국 대통령이 지난 9월 유엔 총회 기조연설에서 "미국이 위협받으면 북한을 완전히 파괴하겠다"며 강경한 대북 경고 메시지를 던진 것도 일선의 군 지도자와 사병들에게 불의의 사태에 대한 사전 대책을 강화해야겠다는 신호로 받아들여졌다고 NYT는 전했다.
그러나 미군의 움직임을 과도하게 해석할 필요는 없다는 지적도 있다.
오바마 행정부에서 국방부 국제안보 차관보를 지낸 데릭 촐렛은 전쟁 개시 결정을 짐작할 수 있는 "대규모의 병력 이동은 안보이지 않느냐"며 단순하게 해석하라고 조언했다.
한국에 있는 미국인들에게 아무런 경고 조치가 없었다는 점도 전쟁 가능성을 낮게 보는 이유다.
미셸 플러노이 전 국방부 차관은 "군대의 임무는 일어날 수 있는 그 어떤 사태에도 만반의 준비를 하는 것"이라고 말했다.
Military Quietly Prepares for a Last Resort: War With North Korea
By HELENE COOPER, ERIC SCHMITT, THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF and JOHN ISMAYJAN. 14, 2018
By MAJ. BROUGH L. MCDONALD 00:34
WASHINGTON — 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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The historic moments, head-spinning developments and inside-the-White House intrigue.
President Trump’s own words have left senior military leaders and rank-and-file troops convinced that they need to accelerate their contingency planning.
During the 82nd Airborne exercise in Nevada last month, Army soldiers practiced moving paratroopers on helicopters and flew artillery, fuel and ammunition deep behind what was designated as enemy lines. Credit U.S. Army
In perhaps the most incendiary exchange, in a September speech at the United Nations, Mr. Trump vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if it threatened the United States, and derided the rogue nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as “Rocket Man.” In response, Mr. Kim said he would deploy the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the United States, and described Mr. Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has since cooled, following a fresh attempt at détente between Pyongyang and Seoul. In an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump was quoted as saying, “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un,” despite their mutual public insults. But the president said on Sunday that The Journal had misquoted him, and that he had actually said “I’d probably have” a good relationship if he wanted one.
A false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday that set off about 40 minutes of panic after a state emergency response employee mistakenly sent out a text alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack underscored Americans’ anxiety about North Korea.
A Conventional Mission
After 16 years of fighting insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, American commanding generals worry that the military is better prepared for going after stateless groups of militants than it is for its own conventional mission of facing down heavily fortified land powers that have their own formidable militaries and air defenses.
The exercise at Fort Bragg was part of one of the largest air assault exercises in recent years. The practice run at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada used double the number of cargo planes for paratroopers as was used in past exercises.
The Army Reserve exercise planned for next month will breathe new life into mobilization centers that have been largely dormant as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down. And while the military has deployed Special Operations reaction forces to previous large global events, like the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, those units usually numbered around 100 — far fewer than some officials said could be sent for the Olympics in South Korea. Others discounted that possibility.
At a wide-ranging meeting at his headquarters on Jan. 2, Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., warned the 200 civilians and service members in the audience that more Special Forces personnel might have to shift to the Korea theater from the Middle East in May or June, if tensions escalate on the peninsula. The general’s spokesman, Capt. Jason Salata, confirmed the account provided to The New York Times by someone in the audience, but said General Thomas made it clear that no decisions had been made.
Training exercises during Operation Panther Blade.
By U.S. ARMY/82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, in several recent meetings at the Pentagon, has brought up two historic American military disasters as a warning of where a lack of preparedness can lead.
Military officials said General Milley has cited the ill-fated Battle of the Kasserine Pass during World War II, when unprepared American troops were outfoxed and then pummeled by the forces of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of Germany. General Milley has also recently mentioned Task Force Smith, the poorly equipped, understrength unit that was mauled by North Korean troops in 1950 during the Korean War.
In meeting after meeting, the officials said, General Milley has likened the two American defeats to what he warns could happen if the military does not get ready for a possible war with North Korea. He has urged senior Army leaders to get units into shape, and fretted about a loss of what he has called muscle memory: how to fight a large land war, including one in which an established adversary is able to bring sophisticated air defenses, tanks, infantry, naval power and even cyberweapons into battle.
Speaking in October at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, General Milley called Pyongyang the biggest threat to American national security, and said that Army officers who lead operational units must prepare to meet that threat.
“Do not wait on orders and printed new regulations and new manuals,” General Milley told the audience. “Put simply, I want you to get ready for what might come, and do not do any tasks that do not directly contribute to increasing combat readiness in your unit.”
His concerns have drifted down to the Army’s rank and file. And troops at bases and posts around the world routinely wonder aloud if they will soon be deployed to the Korean Peninsula.
But unlike the run-up to the Iraq war, when the Pentagon had already begun huge troop movements in 2002 to prepare for the invasion that began in 2003, military officials insist that this is not a case of a war train that has left the station.
“This could be as simple as these guys reading the newspaper,” said Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary of defense during the Obama administration, referring to the rush by military officials to get ready. “You’re not seeing any massive military movements” that would indicate that a decision has been made to go to war, he added.
There have been no travel warnings advising Americans to stay away from South Korea or Japan, and no advisories warning American businesses to be cautious.
It is unlikely that the Pentagon would launch military action on the Korean Peninsula without first warning Americans and others there, military officials said — unless the Trump administration believes that the United States could conduct a one-time airstrike on North Korea that would not bring any retaliation from Pyongyang to nearby Seoul.
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Some officials in the White House have argued that such a targeted, limited strike could be launched with minimal, if any, blowback against South Korea — a premise that Mr. Mattis views with skepticism, according to people familiar with his thinking.
But for Mr. Mattis, the planning serves to placate Mr. Trump. Effectively, analysts said, it alerts the president to how seriously the Pentagon views the threat and protects Mr. Mattis from suggestions that he is out of step with Mr. Trump.
“The military’s job is to be fully ready for whatever contingencies might be on the horizon,” said Michèle A. Flournoy, a top Pentagon official in the Obama administration and co-founder of WestExec Advisors, a strategic consultancy in Washington.
“Even if no decision on North Korea has been made and no order has been given,” Ms. Flournoy said, “the need to be ready for the contingency that is top of mind for the president and his national security team would motivate commanders to use planned exercise opportunities to enhance their preparation, just in case.”
Operation Panther Blade
In the case of the 82nd Airborne exercise in Nevada last month, for instance, Army soldiers practiced moving paratroopers on helicopters and flew artillery, fuel and ammunition deep behind what was designated as enemy lines. The maneuvers were aimed at forcing an enemy to fight on different fronts early in combat.
Officials said maneuvers practiced in the exercise, called Panther Blade, could be used anywhere, not just on the Korean Peninsula. “Operation Panther Blade is about building global readiness,” said Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a public affairs officer with the 82nd Airborne. “An air assault and deep attack of this scale is very complex and requires dynamic synchronization of assets over time and space.”
Another exercise, called Bronze Ram, is being coordinated by the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command, officials said, and mimics other training scenarios that mirror current events.
This year’s exercise, one of many that concentrate on threats from across the world, will focus extensively on underground operations and involve working in chemically contaminated environments that might be present in North Korea. It will also home in on the Special Operations Command’s mission of countering weapons of mass destruction.
Beyond Bronze Ram, highly classified Special Operations exercises in the United States, including those with scenarios to seize unsecured nuclear weapons or conduct clandestine paratrooper drops, have for several months reflected a possible North Korea contingency, military officials said, without providing details, because of operational sensitivity.
Air Force B-1 bombers flying from Guam have been seen regularly over the Korean Peninsula amid the escalating tensions with Pyongyang — running regular training flights with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets that often provoke North Korea’s ire. B-52 bombers based in Louisiana are expected to join the B-1s stationed on Guam later this month, adding to the long-range aerial firepower.
Pentagon officials said last week that three B-2 bombers and their crews had arrived in Guam from their base in Missouri.
But unlike the very public buildup of forces in the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 2003 Iraq war, which sought to pressure President Saddam Hussein of Iraq into a diplomatic settlement, the Pentagon is seeking to avoid making public all its preparations for fear of inadvertently provoking a response by Mr. Kim, North Korea’s leader.
Last week, diplomats from North Korea and South Korea met for the first time in two years in a sign of thawing tensions. On Tuesday, Canada and the United States will host a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, of foreign ministers from countries that supported the United Nations-backed effort to repel North Korean forces after the 1950 invasion of South Korea. The ministers are seeking to advance the diplomatic initiative forged by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.
It is a balance that Mr. Mattis and senior commanders are trying to strike in showing that the military, on the one hand, is ready to confront any challenge that North Korea presents, even as they strongly back diplomatic initiatives led by Mr. Tillerson to resolve the crisis.
An exchange this month illustrated perfectly the fine line the Pentagon is walking, as an Air Force three-star general caught her colleague emphasizing military prowess perhaps a tad too much, and gently guided him back.
During a briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill, Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland was asked whether the Air Force was prepared to take out North Korean air defenses.
“If you’re asking us, are we ready to fight tonight, the answer is, yes, we will,” General Nowland, the Air Force’s top operations officer, responded. “The United States Air Force, if required, when called to do our job, will gain and maintain air supremacy.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson, the Air Force’s top intelligence officer, interrupted.
“I’ll also add that right now, the Defense Department is in support of Secretary of State Tillerson, who’s got a campaign to be the lead with North Korea in a diplomatic endeavor,” General Jamieson said.
General Nowland quickly acknowledged in a follow-up question that the military was in support of Mr. Tillerson’s diplomatic push.