March 26, 2018 11:38
The U.S. Forces Korea will practice the mass evacuation of American civilians from South Korea next month, the Stars and Stripes military daily reported last Thursday.
"It will transport a group of about 100 volunteers all the way to the United States this year in what is believed to be a first," the paper said citing a source.
The noncombatant evacuation operation will be held on April 16-20 during the annual joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises.
The U.S. military holds such evacuation exercises twice a year, involving mostly family members and civilian contractors. But during previous drills, they were evacuated to Yokota Air Base west of Tokyo, whereas this time they will be transported all the way to the U.S. mainland.
"The situation has calmed after North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics last month led to a series of diplomatic breakthroughs. But U.S. officials and experts said there's a new awareness about the need to be ready for the worst-case scenario," the Stars and Stripes said.
It quoted Adm. Harry Harris, the chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, as telling a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month, "If conflict breaks out on the Korean Peninsula then we're going to have to get Americans off of there. The numbers are staggering."
Besides 200,000 American civilians, more than 1 million Chinese, and 60,000 Japanese "would also be looking for a way out," Harris added.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in December last year that there is a contingency plan that would pull out U.S. military families "on very short notice."
Japan is no longer an option because North Korea unveiled new missiles last year that are thought capable of striking U.S. military bases there and on Guam.
But some American pundits say the evacuation drill is unrealistic. "Given that an evacuation of so many citizens would be virtually impossible under a rain of North Korean artillery and missiles (potentially laced with biochemical weapons), these Americans would most likely have to hunker down until the war was over," wrote Victor Cha of Georgetown University, in the Washington Post on Jan. 30.
Currently, there are some 230,000 American civilians and 28,500 USFK troops in South Korea.
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