WASHINGTON -- Responding to concerns that North Korea is preparing to test a medium-range missile after weeks of bellicose threats, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific sought to reassure Congress on Tuesday that the Pentagon would be able intercept a missile aimed at the United States or its East Asian allies.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear said Pentagon agencies would quickly recognize if a missile’s trajectory was headed into the open ocean, and that U.S. anti-missile batteries on ships and land would knock it out of the sky if it was deemed a threat.
"We have a credible ability to defend the homeland, to defend Hawaii, to defend Guam, to defend our forward deployed forces, and to defend our allies," Locklear told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
U.S. and South Korean officials have said that the Pyongyang regime may launch the missile as early as Wednesday.
The U.S. has never sought to shoot down a North Korean missile, and it's unclear if such a move would escalate the tension that has roiled the region. The Obama administration has moved additional military forces into the Pacific, but has sought to calibrate its response in the matter to avoid fueling the crisis.
A "counter-provocation plan" drawn up by U.S. and South Korean officials calls for their combined military forces to respond proportionally to a North Korean attack, but to avoid any step that could set off an escalation of hostilities.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang warned foreigners in South Korea to look for shelter or consider evacuating because the Korean peninsula was "inching closer to a thermonuclear war."
U.S. officials called the latest in a series of threats part of a campaign of bluster by North Korea's untested new leader, Kim Jong Un.
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Special correspondent Choi reported from Seoul.