Pentagon officials told Fox News on Friday that the U.S. military stands ready to “fight tonight” on the Korean Peninsula, as President Trump said the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and retweeted images from U.S. Pacific Command showing B-1B Lancer bombers on Guam.
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At the same time, a North Korean state news agency statement warned that “even a single shell dropped on the Korean Peninsula might lead to the outbreak of … thermonuclear war.”
“We consider the U.S. no more than a lump which we can beat to a jelly any time,” the Korean Central News Agency said, quoting Institute of International Studies researcher Kang Kum Chol.
The exchange capped a week of escalating warnings between Washington and Pyongyang.
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Trump tweeted early Friday morning.
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The “fight tonight” vow is a long-held motto for U.S. forces deployed to the region.
Trump and top military officials have left little to the imagination in warning Pyongyang about what would happen if it followed through on threats to attack Guam, a U.S. territory.
“He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before – what will happen in North Korea,” Trump said Thursday, at his property in Bedminster, N.J., in response to Kim Jong Un’s threats. “It’s not a dare, it’s a statement.”
Trump’s tweets follow days of escalating rhetoric toward the regime.
Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to introduce a set of punishing sanctions that could cost North Korea almost $1 billion off of its $3 billion annual export revenue. The resolution, which is considered the harshest levied against Pyongyang in a decade, was payback for its testing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month. Those tests, plus word that the rogue regime may have miniaturized nuclear weapons, have brought the world to the brink of war.
But dictator Kim Jong Un responded with more threats against the west, touching off a rhetorical escalation that culminated in Trump's warning this week that the rogue nation would be met with "fire and fury" if it tried to carry out its threats. Hours later, state media in North Korea reported that its leaders were seriously considering a plan to fire missiles at Guam.
Despite the tough rhetoric, there are just six B-1 bombers deployed to Guam right now, according to defense officials. Out of the Air Force fleet of 62 bombers, only half can fly right now after years of budget cuts, according to Air Force statistics. There is currently no U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group or Marine Corps Expeditionary Unit off the Korean Peninsula right now.
Military assets could scramble from other locations, however.
The president has faced some criticism in Washington for the tone of his rhetoric against Pyongyang, with lawmakers warning he could needlessly escalate the standoff. But Trump maintained Thursday his words might not have been "tough enough."
The warnings from Trump come as China – North Korea’s primary ally – issued a veiled warning to the U.S.
China’s government, via state media, said it would remain neutral if North Korea attacks the U.S. but would defend its neighbor if the U.S. were to strike first against Kim Jong Un.
Meanwhile, other Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan and Australia, have come out in support of the United States in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.