North Korea claims to possess Travis King, a US soldier


First public confirmation from North Korea that a US soldier entered its territory in July has sparked an appeal from his family for him to be treated humanely. However, there are still doubts about why the soldier entered one of the world’s most hostile nations at a time when tensions on the peninsula are at an all-time high.

The Joint Security Area (JSA), a small group of buildings inside the 150-mile-long demilitarised zone (DMZ) that has divided North and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953, is where Army Pvt. Travis King allegedly “willfully and without authorization” crossed into North Korea on July 18.

The JSA has no physical barriers, and a US official claimed that after swerving across the border’s demarcation line, King attempted to enter a North Korean facility, but the door was closed. He immediately fled to the building’s back, where he was quickly bundled into a van and transported away by North Korean security personnel.

US sources told CNN earlier in August that despite repeated attempts to get in touch with North Korea for an update on King’s status, they had still not received a meaningful response.

King, a cavalry scout, enlisted in the armed forces in January 2021. According to Army spokesman Bryce Dubee, at the time of his rotation in South Korea, he was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armoured Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas.

King was freed from a South Korean prison facility where he had completed 50 days of hard labour little over a week before making his quick trip across the border, according to defence authorities.

King was scheduled to take a flight to Texas the day before he entered North Korea, where he would be subject to disciplinary action. King, however, exited the airport on his own when Army bodyguards released him at a security checkpoint at Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul.

The following day, he participated in a JSA trip that he had previously scheduled with a private company.

Last month, US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at the Aspen Security Forum that King “assaulted an individual in South Korea, had been in the custody of the South Korean government, and was going to come back to the United States to face the consequences in the Army.”

King’s sister Jaqueda Gates said on August 2 on CNN that her brother is “not the type to just disappear.”

She continued, “I don’t I don’t believe that you just do vanish and ran away. So, that’s why I feel like the story is deeper than that.”

According to Jonathan Franks, a family spokesman, Claudine Gates, the soldier’s mother, requested on August 16 that Pyongyang treat him humanely and permit him a phone call to talk with her.

Although there has long been tension between the United States and North Korea, the situation is extremely tight right now.

Following a breakdown in negotiations between Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump in 2019, the North has intensified its nuclear and missile programmes.

The negotiations, which lasted three in-person meetings and saw Trump cross the same red line as King did, were unsuccessful in producing any significant diplomatic achievements.

Three intercontinental ballistic missile tests have taken place so far this year, and North Korea has accused the US and South Korea of escalating tensions by holding military drills and deploying weapons, such as a nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine from the US Navy to the South Korean port of Busan in July.

In violation of international restrictions, North Korea tested more than 90 cruise and ballistic missiles last year, including one that soared over Japan. Concerns have been raised over the increase in testing as it may be gearing up for a prospective nuclear test – its first since 2017.

According to a report from the government-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 10, Kim fired his top general amid a reorganisation of North Korea’s military leadership and declared that he wanted his army to “gird for a war.”

Although the US or South Korea were not specifically mentioned in the report, it appeared to make an indirect reference to them when it stated that North Korean authorities had “analysed the military moves of the chief culprits of the deteriorated situation” on the peninsula.

King, who is thought to be the first American soldier to enter North Korea since 1982, is being held by a notoriously despotic and secretive one-party government that sees the US as a mortal enemy.

King might offer North Korea military intelligence value, but this is questionable. He wouldn’t likely have access to high-level intelligence as a private, but by virtue of being on a US military installation, he might be able to discuss things like base plans or the units and soldier numbers there.

King provides North Korea with a potentially formidable negotiating piece as a soldier and US citizen, however it is unclear what Pyongyang may ask for in exchange for returning King to US custody.

King might also be employed by Pyongyang for propaganda purposes.

According to a KCNA article from August 16, King, a Black man, declared “his willingness to seek refugee” in North Korea or a third country, and he chose to enter the country because “he harboured ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”

Two days prior to a trilateral summit between the presidents of the US, South Korea, and Japan in Maryland, the KCNA story was released. North Korea’s threat to all three nations is anticipated to be a major topic of discussion.

A US defence source remarked in reference to the KCNA claim that Washington “can’t verify these alleged comments.”

“We are still concentrating on his safe return. Bringing Private King home is the (Defence) Department’s top priority, and we are utilising all possible avenues to make this happen, the official stated.

North Korea and the US do not hold formal diplomatic ties. Instead, the US uses the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang as a point of contact.

The US considers declaring an American soldier in North Korea a prisoner of war.

In the decades following the end of the Korean War, a small number of US soldiers decamped to North Korea, but in more recent times, US citizens have been imprisoned in North Korea as civilians, sometimes for extended periods of time as US officials work to secure their release and Pyongyang tries to extract concessions.

Bruce Byron Lowrance, who, according to North Korean official media, entered North Korea from China in 2018, was the last American known to be imprisoned by the country.

Lowrance was detained by Pyongyang, who charged him with working for the CIA, but freed him about a month later with the help of the Swedish Embassy.

Otto Warmbier, a college student who visited the country as a tourist in 2016, is likely the most well-known recent example of an American being detained in North Korea.

His intended stay of five days extended to seventeen months after he was charged with attempting to steal a political flag from his hotel.

Warmbier was given a 15-year sentence of hard labour, but he was turned over to US authorities in 2017. Less than a week after his return, he passed away from significant brain injury, with Washington alleging that he had been tortured while in detention.

Charles Jenkins, a US Army sergeant who entered North Korea in 1965 while serving at a US military facility close to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), is arguably the most notorious example of a US soldier defecting to North Korea.

Jenkins then said he had changed his mind and attributed it to drinking.

He starred in propaganda videos, gave English lessons to North Korean spies, and studied North Korean leaders’ writings for up to eight hours a day while there.

His wife, a Japanese national who was abducted from her home in Japan in 1978 and who departed North Korea as part of a settlement between Pyongyang and Tokyo, was also permitted to leave the country in 2004, two years after her.


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