Secretary Austin vows continued efforts to counter N. Korean provocation
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, March 2 (Yonhap) -- The United States will continue to counter threats posed by North Korea through close cooperation with its allies, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday.
In a memorandum to all defense department officials, the defense secretary named "advanced and persistent" threats posed by North Korea and Iran as one of challenges facing the country, along with what he called the "pacing challenge" from China and "acute threat" posed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"Implementing our strategy means tackling the pacing challenge from the People's Republic of China (PRC) while also confronting the acute threat of Russian aggression and managing the risk of escalation as (Vladimir) Putin's cruel war against Ukraine enters a second year," Austin wrote.
"We must also defend against and deter threats from Iran, North Korea, and global terrorist organizations, even while we grapple with 21st-century, transnational challenges such as climate change," he added, according to a copy of the memorandum released by the defense department.
North Korea conducted an unprecedented 69 ballistic missiles tests last year, marking a new annual record of ballistic missiles fired. Its previous record was at 25.
"We will continue to respond to North Korean provocations, coordinating closely with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners," said Austin, referring to South Korea by its official name.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder later reaffirmed U.S. commitment to defending South Korea, as well as U.S. troops stationed there.
"We have been very clear that we will continue to work closely with the Republic of Korea and our partners and allies in the region to safeguard not only the South Korea but our own forces, as well as our allies and our partners in the region," he told a daily press briefing.
The U.S. maintains some 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.
Ryder's remarks come after news reports said two short-range ballistic missiles fired by North Korea last month into the East Sea flew the exact distances they would need to hit U.S. military bases in South Korea.
"I think we have been very clear that any type of provocative reaction or action will be dealt with appropriately, and we will stay in close consultation, again, with our allies and partners on this," he said.
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