By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2013 - As always, the U.S. military stands ready to deal with any provocation North Korea's leaders offer, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
The secretary said North Korea's announcement this week of a third nuclear test following previous trials in 2006 and 2009 was "needlessly provocative."
Speaking at a Pentagon news conference with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary said any nuclear test or rocket launch that furthers North Korea's missile development represents a violation of United Nations resolutions and international law.
North Korea's National Defense Commission declared the intent to launch "a
variety of satellites and long-range rockets" and "a nuclear test of higher
level ... in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle
that has lasted century after century, [and] will target against the U.S., the
sworn enemy of the Korean people."
Panetta said North Korea has a clear choice between its current course of provocation and negotiating responsibly with other nations, along with providing for its people.
"The United States is fully prepared, we remain prepared, to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans," the secretary said. "But I hope ... they determine that it is better to make the choice to become part of the international family."
While the secretary said he follows intelligence on North Korea closely, he acknowledged it's difficult to predict whether a North Korean launch or test is imminent, based on what he's seen.
"We've seen no outward indications, but that doesn't tell you much," he said. "They have the capability, frankly, to conduct these tests in a way that [makes] it very difficult to determine whether or not they're doing it."
Turning to Benghazi, the secretary addressed a question on whether the situation in Libya's second-largest city poses an imminent threat. The British, German and Dutch governments determined in advising their citizens to leave. Benghazi was the site of an attack on the U.S. consulate there that killed four Americans three months ago.
"Everybody in that area ... is very concerned that they simply can't provide the security necessary to protect people in those places," Panetta said. "And I think that's why these countries have made the decision that they've made. As far as I know, we have not been asked to participate in moving any people out of Benghazi."
Dempsey said the tide of insurgent activity across Libya, Mali, Algeria and other parts of North and West Africa stems from three main motivators: terrorism, arms trafficking and crime.
The pool of adversaries there is "a syndicate of groups who come together episodically, when it's convenient to them, in order to advance their cause," the chairman said.
Dempsey named four groups who sometimes combine forces:
in Libya, Ansar al-Sharia; in Algeria, Ansar al-Din; in Mali, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb; and in Algeria, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who reportedly planned the recent attack on a natural gas complex there, claims affiliation with al-Qaida and leads a group called Signatories of Blood.
"They work together when it's convenient to them," Dempsey said. "And what we have to be alert to is that ... [we] acknowledge the connective tissue there. And that takes us to a regional strategy, not necessarily a country-specific strategy."
Panetta said details are still developing of some operations surrounding the hostage-taking in Algeria.
"We still, as of this moment, have not been able to look at the specifics of who was involved, [and what] took place," the secretary said. "We understand the Algerians are questioning two individuals that they were able to capture during this operation. So we're hoping that we'll get better information from them specifically as to who was involved."
Panetta vowed if perpetrators of the Algeria attack remain at large, "we're going to go after them."
"Americans were killed, and we don't stand by when Americans are killed and
not take action," the secretary said.