Washington (CNN)North Korea's "unpredictable" and "provocative" behavior, along with advancements in missile technology, are cause for "great concern," according to a top U.S. military official.
General warns North Korean missiles pose 'physical threat' to U.S.
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Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Army forces in the Pacific, said Wednesday that North Korea's "increased militarization," including the growing range and precision of its missile program, now represents a "physical threat" to the United States.
Brooks's comments to the Center for Strategic and International Studies come amidst increased threats and harsh rhetoric from Pyongyang.
Soon after the U.S. ambassador to South Korea suffered a knife attack in Seoul Wednesday night, North Korea called the assault "punishment" for U.S. behavior. And earlier this week, the North Korean Foreign Minister told a forum in Geneva that his country was prepared to unleash a pre-emptive strike on the U.S. to deter what the North sees as an increasing military threat from Washington.
Meanwhile, a recent report by 38 North, a website that closely follows developments on the Korean peninsula, warned that Pyongyang could be in a position to expand its stockpile to as many as 100 weapons by 2020.
Brooks acknowledged that it would be "difficult to surmise" exactly how far North Korea has advanced its missile capability, but he said the program's development underscores the need to remain engaged in the region and collaborate and train with allied militaries like South Korea's.
South Korean police say the motive for the attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert was to stop the current joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises and to improve North-South Korean relations. The State Department said Thursday it could not ascribe a motive at this point.
In the statement referring to the attack as punishment, North Korea said that "while the anti-U.S. sentiment is rising in South Korea, this incident is the reflection of South Korean condemning the U.S. and sign of protest," according to KCNA, the country's official news agency.
The annual training exercise got underway earlier this week, and also includes forces from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France and the U.K.
While the parties continue dialogue with North Korea in search of a diplomatic opening with Pyongyang, Brooks maintained that such exercises are necessary in order to maintain a ready posture in the case of an unprovoked attack by the North.
Brooks said continued missile and nuclear tests by North Korea only serve to perpetuate a tense situation that could lead to a dangerous confrontation.
"This is not helpful, and it's creating a greater potential for miscalculation," he warned.