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US blueprint for a Korean war

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U.S. blueprint for N. Korea war

From Jamie McIntyre, CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent

Monday, May 12, 2003 Posted: 8:17 AM EDT (1217 GMT)

North Korea's 'military first' policy has produced a formidable military force.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If the U.S. were to go to war with North Korea, it would be a very different conflict than the one against Iraq.

The U.S. has "war-gamed" the scenario for years -- a blueprint for the defense of South Korea that Pentagon insiders know as "OP-PLAN 50-27."

Every year the U.S. and South Korean military rehearse the plan and the result is always the same: The U.S. and its allies prevail, but at a terrible price.

For half-a-century, the U.S. has been obligated by treaty to execute that war plan, if the North ever invades the South.

U.S. Army Gen. Leon LaPorte's job is to make sure the North loses.

He is confidant that if North Korea were ever to attack the South, that attack would be defeated.

Nonetheless LaPorte and many of his predecessors say North Korea's military, while obsolete, is nevertheless formidable, with 70 percent of its army massed south of Pyongyang along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Retired General John Tilleli, who commanded U.S. forces stationed in Korea from 1996-1999, says the North is capable of unleashing a huge military arsenal at a moments notice.

"They have short range and medium range missiles, present and deployed," he says.

"They have weapons of mass destruction," he adds, "and oh, by the way, they have about a million-plus ground forces."

The Pentagon says about 800 of the North's missiles can strike any point in South Korea, and even as far as Japan.

Tilleli says he believes the North has chemical weapons and can mount chemical warheads on some of those missiles.

If the North decided to go to war, he says, "I would expect that the regime would use all means available."

Under the North's "military first" policy, most of the country's extremely limited resources are devoted to its armed forces.

Pyongyang has invested heavily in things like artillery, according to U.S. intelligence reports, with an estimated 11,000 guns pointing southwards.

Many are hidden in hardened bunkers in the mountainous border region.

By one calculation they are capable of raining as many as 300,000 shells an hour in to the heart of the South Korean capital, a mere 40 miles south of the DMZ.

Some 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Ash Carter, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy during the Clinton administration, says the consequences would be devastating.

"This is a war that takes place in a crowded suburb of a teeming, modern Asian city," he says.

"It's an intensity of violence that we haven't seen since the last Korean War and God forbid it to take place would truly shock people."

One Pentagon projection estimates a million casualties on both sides, including as many as 50,000 U.S. troops.

According to U.S. commanders, the brunt of the South Korea's defense would be borne initially by its own 600,000-strong army, and its Air Force of 780 aircraft, including Korean F-15s and F-16s.

But sources say the war plan also calls for quickly supplementing the 37,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea with up to 500,000 American reinforcements, backed by massive use of U.S. airpower to prevent the fall of Seoul.

"Our objective is to hold north of Seoul because we don't want Seoul to change hands twice," says Ash Carter.

"That means you can't trade territory for time. In military terms that means a rapid war of attrition up near the DMZ."

Ash Carter, indeed, was there when "OP-PLAN 50-27" almost went into action in 1994.

Brink of war

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il now says he has his finger on a nuclear trigger.

He says the U.S. came close to ordering a strike by F-117s stealth jets and Tomahawk cruise missile to take out North Korea's nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

The idea was to set back the North's nuclear program for years by entombing inside the plant the plutonium that could otherwise be used for nuclear weapons.

In 1994 then President Bill Clinton had to weigh whether a preemptive strike would spark an all out war.

Before the decision could be made an eleventh-hour agreement that froze North Korea's nuclear program, averted military action.

But now, should diplomacy fail, U.S. President George W. Bush -- who has a stated policy of preemption -- would face the same unpalatable choice, with one new wrinkle.

According to the U.S., North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, now claims to have a nuclear bomb, and is demanding to be treated as a nuclear power.

"One or two nuclear weapons adds to the level of destruction but it doesn't transform the situation," says Carter.

"They are capable today of reeking awful destruction," he adds, warning: "it will also be their self-destruction if they ever do it."

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