USFK chief stresses close intel sharing with Seoul before NK rocket launch
The U.S. Forces Korea chief said Friday that his military has worked closely with South Korea to handle North Korea's rocket launch earlier this week and shared information in "real time."
Gen. James Thurman, the chief of the Combined Forces Command, issued a statement that stressed "the high level of coordination and cooperation" between the militaries of the two nations, saying the process has been "seamless."
His remarks came after South Korean media questioned whether the two nations were exchanging up-to-date intelligence ahead of Pyongyang's launch on Wednesday morning, which came as a surprise as it took place just three days after an announcement that indicated it would be postponed.
One day after the North's acknowledgment of technical glitches, major Korean media reported Tuesday that the communist state had moved the three-stage rocket to an assembly line to fix the problems, citing satellite imagery and anonymous government sources, and the defense ministry downsized its surveillance task force team.
Following the successful launch, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin was summoned by lawmakers to the National Assembly and said the reports were "incorrect." His spokesman later said the reports were based on an analysis on Tuesday morning and the North completed preparations for the launch later that day.
The speculation over intelligence sharing grew further after a Japanese paper on Thursday reported that the U.S. authorities did not give South Korean officials updates on satellite imagery taken later Tuesday, which showed the three-stage rocket had been placed back on the launch pad.
"We maintained real-time contact and continually exchanged information before, during and after the launch," Thurman said. "The security of the Republic of Korea and protection of its people are always the number one priority of the Combined Forces Command." Republic of Korea is South Korea's official name.
About 28,500 American soldiers are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. (Yonhap)