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US Military: North Korean Missiles Can Reach America, Lack Guidance

by Courtney Kube and Adam Edelman /  / Updated 
This photo distributed by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, ICBM, on July 4, 2017 in North Korea's northwest. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this photo. North Korea claimed to have tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile in a launch Tuesday, a potential game-changing development in its push to militarily challenge Washington -- but a declaration that conflicts with earlier South Korean and U.S. assessments that it had an intermediate range.KCNS / AP

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North Korea’s latest missile test-launch showed that the rogue regime now has the range to hit the U.S. — although Pyongyang doesn’t yet have the guidance technology to ensure such an attempted strike would be aimed accurately, a top U.S. military officer said Tuesday.

“On range, they clearly have the capability,” Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing when asked about whether Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile could reach the U.S.

Selva, the second-highest ranking U.S. military officer, however, noted he was “not saying” that North Korea’s July 4 missile test “demonstrates they have the capacity to strike the U.S. with any degree of accuracy or reasonable confidence of success.”

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North Korea has not demonstrated “the capacity to do the guidance and control that would be required,” Selva said.

Selva, nevertheless, confirmed later in the hearing that the U.S. would consider a preemptive launch operation to take out Pyongyang’s own launch capability.

"I think we have to entertain that potential option," Selva said, adding that carrying out such an option “would be a policy choice by the president of the United States.”

Such a move would require congressional authorization, Selva said, and would require serious deliberation.

“We need to think seriously about what the consequences of that action would be,” he said.

On July 4, North Korea fired what U.S. military officials later confirmed was the regime’s first ICBM, marking a significant step forward in Pyongyang's weapons program and an escalation of an emerging nuclear standoff with the U.S.

Officials confirmed that the "two-stage" ICBM was capable of traveling more than 3,500 miles — meaning it would be able to reach Alaska.

The missile contained a re-entry vehicle and was fired from a new mobile launch site, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said earlier this month.

Davis added that there was still no evidence Pyongyang currently has the ability to mount a nuclear warhead to such a missile or that the missile was yet capable of full re-entry.

Following the test, the U.S. condemned the launch, firing warning missiles and vowing to hold the regime accountable at the United Nations.

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