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Trump’s limited military options for ‘fire and fury’


President Donald Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea marks yet another escalation in the nuclear rhetoric between him and Kim Jong-Un.

But with any military action potentially triggering a massive response from Pyongyang, does Trump have any realistic options?

– Can Trump strike first? –

Preemptive military action against North Korea would mean the United States and its allies won’t wait until Pyongyang fires an offensive ballistic missile.

Even limited military action — against launch facilities, for example — risks Kim responding with a devastating strike.

The unpredictable leader has amassed artillery units along the border with South Korea, whose capital, Seoul, is only about 35 miles (55 kilometers) away.

Limited shelling and rocket fire would likely lead to mass casualties in the city of 10 million and experts warn that any conflict would quickly escalate, with geopolitical repercussions, upheaval of the global economy and huge death tolls.

Aside from the large civilian population, the Pentagon has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, all of whom would be at risk.

– What to strike? –

B-2 stealth bombers — likely taking off from Guam — could deliver Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs and other armaments that would incapacitate North Korea’s known nuclear production sites and weapons storage facilities.

Stratfor, a US private intelligence firm that this year published a paper looking at possible Pentagon options, said an initial wave of bombing could be followed up by a barrage of F-22 strikes and cruise missiles that would focus on wiping out North Korea’s weapons delivery vehicles.

But destroying Pyongyang’s obvious military targets does little to prevent North Korea delivering a nuclear device through other means — perhaps via a civilian fishing boat — that would be detonated by a suicide operative.

– Is Guam really at risk? –

After Trump’s warning of “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Pyongyang said it was considering a missile strike against the tiny US Pacific island territory of Guam that could be put into action “any moment” after Kim gives the order.

Though North Korea last month twice demonstrated it has intercontinental ballistic missile capability, it would only need an intermediate-range missile to hit Guam.

Guam serves as a strategic base for the US military in the Pacific, with Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he did not believe “there is any imminent threat” to Guam, and Pentagon officials told AFP there had been no change in the security level at the island’s military bases.

While it is theoretically possible for a North Korean intermediate-range missile to reach Guam, these weapons have only been tested a few times and their destructive capabilities are not proven.

The US military also has a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-defense system in Guam.

– More powerful than ever? –

Trump on Wednesday took to Twitter to boast that America’s nuclear arsenal is the most powerful it has ever been, though he said “hopefully” the US would never have to use it.

“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump tweeted.

In fact, the Pentagon has long planned on modernizing its nuclear “triad,” a three-pronged nuclear attack force comprising ICBMs, submarines and bombers.

It is a decades-long process that was initiated many years before Trump took office.

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