Mattis Warns Any Firing at U.S. Could 'Escalate Into War Very Quickly'

By Patrick Goodenough | August 14, 2017 | 8:49pm EDT
In a 2014 photo featured on the front page of the North Korean ruling party’s organ, Kim Jong-un provides “field guidance” to officials. (Photo: Rodong Sinmun, File)

( – Defense Secretary James Mattis cautioned North Korea Monday that any missile attack on American soil could lead to war.

“If they fire at the United States, it could escalate into war very quickly,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, adding later, “If they shoot at the United States, I’m assuming they hit the United States. If they do that, it’s game on.”

Also on Monday, Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency reported that Kim Jong-un visited the Korean People’s Army’s Strategic Force – the unit responsible for missile launches – and discussed at great length and in “real earnest” a proposal to fire four intermediate-range Hwasong missiles towards Guam, a U.S. territory some 2,000 miles southeast of North Korea.

Kim praised their combat-preparedness and high spirits, and said the U.S. should stop “provoking” North Korea by “introducing huge nuclear strategic equipment” into the vicinity. That was apparently a reference to U.S. Air Force B1-B Lancer strategic bombers that in recent weeks have flown several missions from Guam to the skies above South Korea and Japan.

Should the U.S. persist in its “reckless actions,” Kim said that the planned “fire of power demonstration” would be carried out.

And if that happens, KCNA cited him as saying, “it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks.”

The KCNA report concluded by saying that, if Kim gives the order, the officers and troops of the KPA Strategic Force are determined to strike targets in South Korea, Japan, the “operational area in the Pacific and the U.S. mainland, flying the sacred red flags of the Party and flags of the supreme commander at every matchless launching pad.”

Mattis said at the Pentagon that U.S. missile defense systems would quickly establish whether a missile fired from the peninsula was heading for U.S. soil on Guam, and if that determination was made, “we’ll take it out.”

If the U.S. military believes any missile will fall into the sea short of Guam, however, it will be up to President Trump to decide how to react, he added.

Although the North Korean military has threatened to “neutralize” the U.S. military presence on Guam, its statements have also referred to launching four missiles into the waters near the island – “areas around Guam” – with one referring to a target zone 30-40 km (18.6-24.8 miles) off the island.

‘Long record of North Korea's dishonesty’

Gaum, around three times the size of the District of Columbia, has a population of some 163,000 people, including 6,000 U.S. military personnel. It is home to important naval and air force bases.

Since 2013, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) missile defense system has been deployed on Guam – the only one currently permanently stationed on U.S. territory.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency says the tracking and interception system has a 14 out of 14 test intercept success rate since 2006. Mattis said on Monday the territory was “well protected.”

The U.S. also has missile defense batteries stationed in South Korea and Japan, as well as Aegis-equipped U.S. warships deployed in the Sea of Japan.

In a joint Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated Tillerson’s earlier assurances that the U.S. is not pursuing regime change or a speedy reunification of the Korean peninsula, or any pretext to deploy troops north of the 38th parallel dividing the two Koreas.

Mattis and Tillerson said the U.S. remains willing to negotiate with the regime in Pyongyang.

“But given the long record of North Korea’s dishonesty in negotiations and repeated violations of international agreements, it is incumbent upon the regime to signal its desire to negotiate in good faith,” they wrote.

“A sincere indication would be the immediate cessation of its provocative threats, nuclear tests, missile launches and other weapons tests.”

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