US bombers on alert for Pyongyang conflict

Rupert Cornwell
Wednesday 05 February 2003 01:00

The Pentagon has put 24 bombers on standby for deployment within range of North Korea. The aim is to warn Pyongyang against exploiting the US preoccupation with Iraq and to strengthen American forces in case George Bush decides on military action against the North.

Testifying to a Senate committee yesterday, Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, described the sending of long-range bombers to the Western Pacific island of Guam, as "prudent military planning ... an alert, so they are available for use". Mr Armitage warned of the risk that North Korea, with its rogue nuclear programme, might "in some fashion try to take advantage of our focus on Iraq".

The alert came four days after the US said that its spy satellites had detected trucks that could be moving spent fuel rods from the previously mothballed nuclear facility at Yongbyon. This has sharply raised fears that the North Koreans plan to extract plutonium from the rods to make several nuclear devices, possibly within the next few months.

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