U.S. Forces Korea chief Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti has voiced concerns that Pentagon budget cuts could lead to difficulties in deploying additional American troops to the Korean Peninsula in the event of a North Korean attack.
The U.S. military has so far maintained the cuts will not hamper maintaining American troops in Korea and defending its ally South Korea against a North Korean invasion remains a priority.
Speaking before the Armed Services Committee at the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, Scaparrotti said U.S. troops must be deployed quickly in the event of a war with North Korea. But he added there may be "difficulties" in deploying extra troops if the cuts progress as planned.
Under the existing operational plan, 690,000 U.S. reinforcements would arrive here within 90 days after a war with the North breaks out, equipped with some 160 warships and about 2,000 aircraft.
"The Korean theater has enjoyed being the highest of priorities, right behind Afghanistan," Scarparotti said. “My concern, however, is in the follow-on forces, which if there is a conflict or an escalation of crisis on the peninsula, I rely on to be there quickly and to be ready."
He explained that any delay in additional U.S. troop deployment during a confrontation with North Korea would let the North buy more time to bolster its defenses, leading to potentially higher casualties among American and South Korean soldiers.
He also warned against the belligerence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. "The Kim Jong-un regime is dangerous and has the capability, especially with an increasing asymmetric threat, to attack South Korea with little or no warning," he said.
Scaparrotti pointed out that the North has the fourth largest military in the world, with more than 70 percent of ground forces deployed near the heavily armed border with South Korea, while its long-range artillery can strike targets in Seoul and surrounding areas, "where over 23 million South Koreans and almost 50,000 Americans live."
He stressed the need to monitor North Korean troop movements and be ready to take preemptive measures to thwart a potential threat by bolstering intelligence-gathering capabilities.