Ter­ri­tory tar­geted by North Korea re­as­sured by U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY GRACE GARCES BORDALLO AND AU­DREY MCAVOY

HA­GATNA, GUAM | The tiny U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam feels a strong sense of pa­tri­o­tism and con­fi­dence in the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary, which has an enor­mous pres­ence on the Pa­cific is­land.

But res­i­dents in­creas­ingly are wor­ried about Wash­ing­ton’s es­ca­lat­ing war of words with North Korea.

The peo­ple of Guam woke up Thurs­day to an­other pointed threat from Py­ongyang, which vowed to com­plete a plan to at­tack wa­ters near the is­land by mid-Au­gust — adding a time­line to a threat from a day ear­lier that North Korea would cre­ate an “en­velop­ing fire” around Guam.

Like other U.S. ter­ri­to­ries, Guam has a some­times com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. main­land, but many across the is­land say that de­spite the threats and con­cerns they feel re­as­sured and pro­tected by the mil­i­tary — es­pe­cially in times of tense, geopo­lit­i­cal spar­ring.

The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence on Guam con­sists of two bases — An­der­sen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south — which are home to 7,000 U.S. troops.

“I feel that the pres­ence of the mil­i­tary on Guam will help us a lot,” said Vir­gie Mat­son, 51, a res­i­dent of Dededo, Guam’s most pop­u­lated vil­lage. “They are here to pro­tect the is­lands, just in case some­thing hap­pens.”

The threat of a nu­clear con­fronta­tion is con­sid­ered re­mote, but in­ter­na­tional alarm has been es­ca­lat­ing in re­cent days.

In the lat­est de­vel­op­ment, Gen. Kim Rak-gyom, who heads North Korea’s rocket com­mand, said in a state­ment car­ried by state me­dia that his coun­try was “about to take” mil­i­tary ac­tion near Guam. He said the North would fi­nal­ize a plan by mid-Au­gust to fire four midrange mis­siles hit­ting wa­ters 19 to 25 miles away from the is­land.

It’s not the first time North Korea has threat­ened Guam, which is a cru­cial, strate­gic hub for U.S. forces in the Pa­cific.

An­der­sen Air Force Base houses a Navy he­li­copter squadron and Air Force bombers that ro­tate to Guam from the U.S. main­land, in­clud­ing the B-2 stealth bomber, B-1 and B-52. Their lo­ca­tion in a U.S. ter­ri­tory means its mil­i­tary is just hours from po­ten­tial flash­points in the western Pa­cific.

Naval Base Guam is an im­por­tant out­post for U.S. fast-at­tack nu­clear pow­ered sub­marines that are a key means for gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence in the re­gion, in­clud­ing off the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea where China has been build­ing mil­i­tary bases on man-made is­lands that have stirred ten­sion across Asia.

The U.S. mil­i­tary has said it plans to in­crease its pres­ence on Guam and will move thou­sands of U.S. Marines sta­tioned in Ja­pan to the is­land from 2024 through 2028.

“I’m pro mil­i­tary buildup,” said res­i­dent Gus Aflague, 60, whose grand­fa­ther and brother joined the U.S. Navy.

“North Korea has al­ways threat­ened other coun­tries. They threat­ened U.S., other coun­tries, and they threaten Guam. It’s a pro­pa­ganda, that’s how I feel,” he said but added that the mil­i­tary of­fered ex­tra re­as­sur­ance. “I feel safe with our mil­i­tary pres­ence here — An­der­sen and the Navy.”

There’s a sense of pa­tri­o­tism among those who cite the is­land’s his­tory of Guam res­i­dents serv­ing in the U.S. mil­i­tary. The U.S. took con­trol of Guam in 1898, when Span­ish au­thor­i­ties sur­ren­dered to the U.S. Navy.

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, the Air Force sent 155 B-52 bombers to Guam to hit tar­gets in South­east Asia. Guam was also a re­fu­el­ing and trans­fer spot for peo­ple head­ing to South­east Asia, and many refugees flee­ing Saigon were evac­u­ated through Guam.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­i­dents of the tiny Pa­cific is­land of Guam say they are afraid of be­ing caught in the mid­dle of es­ca­lat­ing nu­clear ten­sions be­tween the U.S. and North Korea.

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