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