US fired missile into East Sea right after N. Korea’s ICBM launch in 2017, says renowned US journalist

Posted on : 2020-09-15 17:57 KST Modified on : 2020-09-15 17:57 KST
Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage” delves into the details of US-N. Korea escalations in 2017
US President Donald Trump speaks during a Latinos for Trump roundtable event in Las Vegas on Sept. 13. (Yonhap News)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a Latinos for Trump roundtable event in Las Vegas on Sept. 13. (Yonhap News)

After North Korea’s first test launch of its Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in 2017, the US fired a missile into the East Sea that traveled the exact distance between the launch site and the location of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to journalist Bob Woodward.

The claim appears in Chapter 11 of Woodward’s new book “Rage,” which was made available to reporters on Sept. 13, prior to its official release on Sept. 15. Woodward was one of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, leading to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon.

Woodward wrote that after North Korea launched the Hwasong-14, a missile capable of striking the West Coast of the US, on July 3, 2017, Vincent Brooks, then commander of US Forces Korea (USFK) and South Korea-US Combined Forces Command, ordered the launch of a tactical missile both as a warning and as a show of force. Brooks’ order was reportedly approved by then US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

US calculated exact distance to Kim Jong-un to send a clear message about his personal safety

Launched from the eastern shore of the Korean Peninsula, the missile traveled for 186 miles (about 299 kilometers) parallel with the armistice line into the East Sea. That was the distance between the launchpad and North Korea’s Hwasong-14 testing site. More specifically, it was calculated to be the precise distance to the tent where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had observed the ICBM launch, according to satellite imagery, Woodward wrote.

“The meaning was meant to be clear: Kim Jong-un needed to worry about his personal safety," Woodward said in his book. At the time, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff had announced that South Korean and US missile units had conducted a joint ballistic missile launch on the East Sea coast in response to North Korea’s missile launch. USFK’s tactical surface-to-surface missile system ATACMS was used at the time. A single ATACMS missile carries 300 or so submunitions and is capable of leveling an area equivalent to four soccer fields.

At the same time, Woodward noted that no intelligence had been gathered to indicate that North Koreans were aware that US missiles could easily target North Korea’s missile test sites or Kim Jong-un. Western news reports on the show of military force by South Korea and the US were also few and far between, he observed.

The book additionally mentions the escalating threat of war between North Korea and the US after North Korea continued test-launching its Hwasong-14 even after July 28. According to Woodward, the Strategic Air Command near Omaha, Nebraska, closely scrutinized and studied OPLAN 5027, an operational plan to prepare for a North Korean regime change. Woodward described the plan as “the US response to an attack that could include the use of 80 nuclear weapons.” Indeed, experts have speculated that North Korea may possess as many as 80 nuclear weapons. In his book’s reference to OPLAN 5027, Woodward appears to have applied speculation from some quarters about North Korea possessing up to 80 nuclear weapons to its characterization of North Korea’s strike capabilities. He also writes that a “plan for a leadership strike, OPLAN 5015, had also been updated.” OPLAN 5015 was a revised follow-up plan to OPLAN 5027, which focuses on a full-scale war with North Korea.

Woodward further writes that during the second half of 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis slept in workout clothes so that he would be able to attend an emergency meeting at any time and went secretly to visit Washington National Cathedral and pray that a nuclear war between North Korea and the US would not come to pass.

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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