WASHINGTON – The U.S. military would prevail in a war against North Korea but at a greater cost in lives than if the United States were not already fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.
"It would not be as clean as we would like it to be, but it would certainly be sure, and the outcome would not be in doubt," said Gen. Peter Pace.
He told a Pentagon news conference that the U.S. military has plenty of people available to fight wars beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, but he acknowledged that U.S.-based ground combat units are not fully equipped.
"We have 2 million folks who can start protecting this nation anywhere else we need them to tomorrow, if we need them to," Pace said when a reporter asked what sort of threat North Korea's military poses.
The fight, however, would be messier than if the U.S. military did not have 147,000 troops tied up in Iraq and about 20,000 in Afghanistan.
"It would be more brute force, wherever we might have to go next, than it would be if we weren't already involved in the war we have going on in Iraq and Afghanistan," Pace said. "Why? Because you need precision intelligence to drop precision munitions. And a lot of our precision intelligence assets are currently being used in the Gulf region. So some of those would not be available if you had to go someplace else."
As a result there would be more unintended damage inflicted, he added.
"You end up more like a World War II, Korean War campaign," he said, adding that he was not making any predictions. "I'm just saying that, on a scale, you're going to have to use more brute force to get the job done" in North Korea.
Pace said U.S. intelligence can determine the size of the North Korean military but it cannot provide an equally important piece of information in assessing the threat of war: the intent of North Korea's leaders.
"What is not knowable is the intent of the leadership in North Korea to use or not use that power at any given time," he said. "And applying Western logic to the leadership in Korea is not something that I would personally want to get my future on."
Concerns about North Korea's intentions have grown in recent months following its July missile tests and its underground nuclear test, which prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea.
Pace said he had seen no indication that North Korean forces have been placed on a higher state of alert.
"To my knowledge, the North Koreans' status of their armed forces is stable," he said. "I mean, they haven't raised or lowered any particular parts of their readiness to cause any kind of alarm."