US Soldier Detained in North Korea: What We Know and What Might Come Next
In an unprecedented event, a US soldier is believed to be in North Korean custody, presenting a diplomatic challenge for the US and South Korea. North Korea’s ballistic missile tests and aggressive rhetoric strain relations.
Pvt. Travis King entered North Korea Tuesday, according to US Army officials. He crossed the demarcation line during a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area, a collection of buildings in the 150-mile-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea since 1953.
According to US Forces Korea spokesperson Col. Isaac Taylor, North Korea holds King. Taylor added that the KPA is resolving the incident.
Cavalry scout Travis King joined the military in January 2021. Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee confirmed that King was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, when the incident occurred in South Korea.
King was imprisoned in South Korea for 50 days after being disciplined for assault. He was in South Korean or US military custody. After his release, he flew to the US. After his escorts failed a security checkpoint, King toured the Joint Security Area.
North Korea-U.S. tensions are high. After Trump-Kim talks failed in 2019, Pyongyang tested intercontinental ballistic missiles. Military exercises and weapon deployments by Washington and Seoul have raised tensions.
North Korea tested over 90 cruise and ballistic missiles last year, including one over Japan, raising nuclear concerns. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang handles US matters since the US has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Risks for Travis King: A notoriously autocratic and opaque one-party regime that hates the US controls King’s fate.
As a private, King’s ability to provide North Korea with military intelligence is unclear. He may reveal troop deployments and base layouts on a US military installation.
Pyongyang may leverage King’s US citizenship and military service. The UN Command, which manages DMZ operations, is negotiating with North Korea to return King, but their demands are unknown.
Like other US citizens, North Korea may use King for propaganda.
Bruce Byron Lowrance, held by North Korea, entered from China. Pyongyang accused him of CIA work but released him a month later with Swedish Embassy help.
Otto Warmbier visited North Korea on vacation in 2016. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a political banner, but US authorities released him in 2017. After returning to the US, he died from torture.
US Army sergeant Charles Jenkins defected in 1965, blaming alcohol. He taught spies English and appeared in propaganda films. Jenkins left North Korea in 2004 after his Japanese wife returned to Japan under a Pyongyang-Tokyo deal.
The US government must address the Pvt. Travis King situation, a major development in US-North Korea relations. The world awaits King’s status and diplomatic implications.