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Haunted by memories of war, Korean-US seniors on edge
New York (AFP) Aug 11, 2017

US military assets in the Asia-Pacific region
Washington (AFP) Aug 11, 2017 - President Donald Trump's tweeted message that military "solutions" to the North Korea nuclear crisis are now "locked and loaded" has further raised the tit-for-tat rhetoric in the escalating stand-off.

But Trump's message doesn't change anything about the US military's posture in the Asia-Pacific region or on the Korean Peninsula, where the Pentagon has for years claimed it is ready to "fight tonight" if necessary.

Here is a look at the size and strength of some of America's massive arsenal in the region.

- South Korea -

A key component to US military power in the Asia-Pacific region is its permanent deployment of troops in South Korea, a legacy from the Korean War.

Because the truce between the Koreas was never ratified by a formal peace treaty, the two sides technically remain at war, and Pyongyang has in the past put its troops on a war footing during times of high tension.

The Pentagon currently has 28,500 troops from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy stationed in the South.

The bulk of these -- about 19,000 soldiers -- are from the 8th Army which is garrisoned at Yongsan in Seoul, just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the border with North Korea.

The US also has multiple squadrons of F-16 fighters and A-10 ground-attack jets.

The American forces are closely intertwined with their South Korean partners and the two militaries routinely conduct joint drills -- the next of which are slated for later this month.

The Pentagon also recently deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea that is capable of intercepting medium-range ballistic missiles.

- Japan -

The US military has a massive presence in Japan, rooted in the end of World War II, with a total of about 50,000 troops in the country.

The largest contingent of these is made up by the Marine Corps, which has more than 20,000 Marines permanently stationed in Japan including at Futenma and Iwakuni air bases.

Those troops fall under control for the US military's enormous Pacific Command, which has more than 377,000 civilian and military personnel working across the Asia-Pacific region.

And the Navy has a carrier strike group permanently based at Yokosuka in Japan, led by the massive USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

The ships are part of the 7th Fleet, which is headquartered at Yokosuka and is the largest of the Navy's forward-deployed fleets.

- Naval power -

Trump vowed he was sending an "armada" toward the Korean Peninsula following an earlier flare-up in tensions in April, though it later transpired the strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier actually went in the opposite direction for drills off Australia before heading toward the Korean Peninsula.

Currently, the only strike group within immediate access of the Peninsula is the USS Ronald Reagan, though the USS Nimitz is in the Gulf and the USS Theodore Roosevelt is conducting exercises off Southern California.

The Navy additionally fields a fleet of nuclear submarines. Their locations are secret but it's likely several of these are lurking in the region.

- Guam -

The military has more than 5,000 troops permanently stationed on Guam, a small US island territory that North Korea has said it plans to launch missiles towards.

North Korean's military said the plan involved four Hwasong-12 missiles, which would be aimed to come down "30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam".

The island hosts Andersen Air Base, where B-1 bombers are currently positioned. It is also home to a squadron of F-16 fighters.

A THAAD battery is also stationed on Guam.

Memories of war haunt elderly Koreans in New York when they think about the gathering nuclear crisis between their homeland and the country they adopted in search of the American dream.

Four million people perished in the 1950-53 Korean War between a US-backed South and China-backed North Korea. It was a bloodbath that ended in stalemate and today lies behind diplomatic panic, depressed markets and frayed nerves.

"We are seniors, all the people, we have experience of war," says Byong Lee, 81, at the Korean American Senior Center of Flushing, New York where he is one of 300 to 350 elderly Koreans who take lunch Monday to Friday.

"They all went to the army and things like that, they know North Korea and that idiot dictator."

The US atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II killing more than 200,000 people linger in the minds of those who come here to play ping pong, read the newspaper or take English classes.

The cost of war they know. The cost of nuclear war, according to those who were children when Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed, would be beyond catastrophic.

"He's crazy," says 75-year-old Wonil Lee of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Ask everybody the same question and you'll get "almost the same answer," he says.

But one retired nurse dashing off to a folk-singing class isn't sure Kim's the only one.

She laughs when asked how President Donald Trump is handling things. "Everybody worries how he talks about everything on Twitter," she says conspiratorially, refusing to give her name. "Some say he's just like Kim Jong-Un."

- 'Who knows' -

Around 100,000 Koreans live in New York City, most of them in Trump's childhood borough of Queens. Around 1.7 million of Korean descent live in the United States -- the second biggest Korean diaspora in the world after China.

In the streets around the center, currently in the basement of a church but poised to relocate to a larger, multi-million-dollar premises, Korean signs are everywhere -- outside a pharmacy, on a repair man's van, outside a medical clinic.

Wonil Lee, a Vietnam War veteran from the Korean military, is happy to offer a few choice words of advice for Trump, whom he calls the most powerful man in the world, to get the better of the 33-year-old Kim.

"Dollars!" he grins underneath a camouflage baseball hat near women taking a calligraphy class.

He wants to see a revival of the ping-pong diplomacy between the Nixon administration and China -- only this time the Korean version.

"America is a very rich country. I think if I was Mr Trump and American president I would say 'OK, how much do you want?'" he says.

"It's not going to work," interjects Byong Lee, shaking his head. After migrating to the United States in 1983 Lee ran a vegetable store, then a cheese shop and worked in asbestos removal before creating a manpower company.

Like others at the center Lee doubts the North Korean leader will follow through on threats to attack Guam.

"But he's an idiot so who knows?... If he does, he's gotta know he's going to die himself."

- 'Flap, flap, flap' -

Neither does he have much confidence in the US president, who said Thursday his threat to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea maybe "wasn't tough enough."

"You can't believe him!" Byong Lee exploded. "Flap, flap, flap. He can say all he wants to... but the thing is, he really wants nuclear war?"

"He doesn't think what we think," he added. "What about us?"

Most of the retired Korean-Americans at the center prefer to talk about family, play ping pong and take singing lessons than discuss politics.

Others harbor residual hope for a billionaire president who grew up a 15-minute drive away.

"Hopefully he does what he says," said Susie, an elegantly dressed woman who declined to give her last name. "He's doing new things, so hopefully he's better."

The retired nurse worries most about those at home on the Korean peninsula. "They're kind of used to it -- 'oh my God here's the same thing again', but I'm kind of worried," she admitted.

"We've been talking the last 20 years and I wish that Trump would... do something about this guy," she said.

But what?

"I really don't know."

Tillerson's Thai stop spotlights country's North Korea ties
Bangkok (AFP) Aug 8, 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a pit-stop in Bangkok on Tuesday with a plea to the kingdom to curb business ties with North Korea, as Washington rounds up allies for its bid to halt Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Tillerson is the highest level American diplomat to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup strained ties between the longtime friends and saw China court Bangkok with massive ar ... read more

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