Guam stays re­laxed amid North Korea nu­clear stand­off

Kuwait Times - - International -

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE: When North Korea last year bragged of plans to lob a salvo of bal­lis­tic mis­siles to­ward Guam, res­i­dents of this re­laxed Amer­i­can is­land in the western Pa­cific didn’t seem too wor­ried. Months later, and with ten­sions still high, they re­main san­guine. “We know that if any­thing was to hap­pen, there would be a lot of ef­forts to keep us safe and make sure we aren’t hit by any­thing,” says Blake Bris­tol, man­ager of Mosa’s Joint diner in the cap­i­tal Ha­gatna.

“We are just go­ing to hang out and en­joy the time that we have. If it hap­pens, it hap­pens-that’s how it is.”Though Guam is US ter­ri­tory and home to more than 160,000 peo­ple, few Amer­i­cans give the is­land much thought-and even fewer will ever visit. But it briefly came to promi­nence last year amid a flurry of North Korea weapons tests.

In a mo­ment of red-hot ten­sion after two in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile (ICBM) launches by Py­ongyang­which prompted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to vow “fire and fury” in re­sponse-the North said it was con­sid­er­ing send­ing mis­siles to­ward Guam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hasn’t fol­lowed through, but of­fi­cials in­sist they could have stopped the threat-and res­i­dents are just get­ting on with their lives. “The gen­eral pop­u­lace feels like they un­der the pro­tec­tion of the US gov­ern­ment,” says an­other lo­cal, Vin­cent Ter­laje.

Res­i­dents have good rea­son to be calm-dozens of radars dot the trop­i­cal is­land’s clifftops and nearby fields, scan­ning for sig­nals and po­ten­tial threats. Guam hosts a so­phis­ti­cated anti-mis­sile sys­tem, known as Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD), which is de­signed to fire in­ter­cep­tors into an in­com­ing in­ter­me­di­ate-range rocket and pul­ver­ize the tar­get. “There is no better de­fended place to be than Guam,” Navy Lieu­tenant Ian McCon­naughey boasts as he shows re­porters around Andersen Air Force Base, a sprawl­ing fa­cil­ity carved from the is­land’s dense trop­i­cal brush.

Pro­ject­ing power McCon­naughey is one of more than 7,000 US mil­i­tary per­son­nel sta­tioned on Guam, which juts out of the world’s deep­est ocean and is part of the re­mote Mar­i­ana Is­lands chain. Though it is lo­cated some 2,100 miles (3,400 kilo­me­ters) south­east of North Korea, Guam in some ways rep­re­sents a front line in Amer­ica’s stand­off with Py­ongyang. It is part of the mil­i­tary’s gi­gan­tic Pa­cific Com­mand (PACOM), a re­gion span­ning al­most half the globe.

Ever since 2004, Guam has hosted at least one of the US mil­i­tary’s three types of heavy bomber, part of the “con­tin­u­ous bomber pres­ence” mis­sion that en­ables the Pen­tagon to stage war games with re­gional al­liesand which one day could be sent into ac­tion against North Korea. Of­fi­cials like to talk about Guam’s im­por­tance for “pro­ject­ing power” deep into the Pa­cific, where ri­vals are try­ing to write a nar­ra­tive that Trump and his “Amer­ica First” agenda mean the US no longer cares about its Pa­cific pres­ence. Gen­eral Joe Dun­fordthe chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who re­cently vis­ited the is­land with a group of jour­nal­ists-and other US of­fi­cials ve­he­mently dis­agree with that as­ser­tion.The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, shaped like a jagged boomerang, is de­ployed here-it can carry nu­clear pay­loads and evade radar. Of­fi­cials on the base wheeled out a better known plane for Dun­ford’s in­spec­tion-the im­pos­ing B-52 Strato­fortress, a Cold War be­he­moth that still forms part of Amer­ica’s bomber fleet back­bone. “We are the third gen­er­a­tion to fly this plane, which is in­cred­i­ble,” 28-year-old Cap­tain Joseph Trench Niez says.

GUAM: The Lucky Lady IV, a Cold War-era B-52 Strato­fortress de­ployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, stands on dis­play.—

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.