NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.--The U.S. Marine Corps remains positioned to address threats coming out of North Korea, a top official says, including contributing to an evacuation.
The Kim Jong Un regime stated war is imminent on Tuesday and called on all foreigners to leave the Korean peninsula. One of the Corps' highest officers says Marines have existing operations and contingency plans should the ongoing tensions escalate to an actual conflict.
"The Marine forces in the western Pacific are what we call 'Fight Tonight Force,'" Gen. John Paxton, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, tells U.S. News. "If something were to happen on the peninsula, they would be one of your immediate crisis response forces."
The III Marine Expeditionary Force is poised to respond to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in the western Pacific. They are bolstered by the 3rd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft wing, both based in Okinawa, Japan.
An evacuation of civilians and military families from South Korea would be coordinated by U.S. Forces Korea, which would have roles for all of the U.S. military components.
"Granted, there is heightened press and heightened tensions, but these are all normal plans for us," Paxton says. "It's prudent every now and then to take them off the shelf and dust them off and make sure you've got the right unit allayed against it."
The North Korean regime said in a statement the peninsula is "inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers."
North Korea "does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war," it adds.
This comes at a time of "institutional paranoia" again for the Marine Corps as it prepares to downsize its force to roughly 182,000 Marines after drawing down in Afghanistan by 2014, Paxton said, while speaking at the Sea-Air-Space expo outside Washington, D.C. There were as many as 418,000 Marines in the Pacific during World War II which shrunk to between 92,000 and 152,000 in the post-war years. The Marine Corps learned from lessons redeploying to Korea in the 1950s, Paxton adds, as it prepares to maintain readiness following sequestration and other budget cuts.