Fri, Aug 11, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Guam feels bond with US as Pyongyang postures

‘PRO MILITARY’:Resident Gus Aflague said that North Korea’s threatening words were ‘propaganda’ and he felt safe with the presence of the US Army and US Navy


Children play on a beach in Tumon, Guam, yesterday.

Photo: AP

The US territory of Guam feels a strong sense of patriotism and confidence in the US military, which has an enormous presence on the Pacific island, but residents are increasingly worried over Washington’s escalating war of words with North Korea.

The people of Guam yesterday woke up to another pointed threat from Pyongyang, which vowed to complete a plan to attack waters near the island by mid-month — adding a timeline to a threat from a day earlier that North Korea would create an “enveloping fire” around Guam.

Like other US territories, Guam has a sometimes complicated relationship with the US mainland, but many across the island have said that, despite the threats and concerns, they feel reassured and protected by the military — especially in times of tense, geopolitical sparring.

The US military presence on Guam consists of two bases — Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south — which are home to 7,000 US troops.

“I feel that the presence of the military on Guam will help us a lot,” said Virgie Matson, 51, a resident of Dededo, Guam’s most populated village.

“They are here to protect the islands, just in case something happens,” Matson said.

The possibility of a nuclear confrontation is considered remote, but international alarm has been escalating in recent days.

In the latest development, General Kim Rak-gyom, who heads North Korea’s rocket command, said in a statement carried by state media that his country was “about to take” military action near Guam.

He said the North would finalize a plan by mid-month to fire four mid-range missiles hitting waters 30km to 40km from the island.

It is not the first time North Korea has threatened Guam, which is a crucial, strategic hub for US forces in the Pacific.

Andersen Air Force Base houses a US Navy helicopter squadron and US Air Force bombers that rotate to Guam from the US mainland, including the B-2 stealth bomber. Their location in a US territory means the military is just hours from potential flash points in the Western Pacific.

Naval Base Guam is an important outpost for US fast-attack nuclear submarines that are a key means for gathering intelligence in the region, including off the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea, where China has been building military bases on artificial islands that have stirred tension across Asia.

The US military has said it plans to increase its presence on Guam and will move thousands of US Marines from Japan to the island between 2024 and 2028.

“I’m pro military buildup,” said resident Gus Aflague, 60, whose grandfather and brother joined the US Navy.

“North Korea has always threatened other countries. They threatened US, other countries and they threaten Guam. It’s a propaganda, that’s how I feel,” he said, adding that the military offered an extra reassurance. “I feel safe with our military presence here — Andersen and the Navy.”

There is a sense of patriotism among those who cite the island’s history of Guam residents serving in the US military. The US took control of Guam in 1898, when Spanish authorities surrendered to the US Navy.

During the Vietnam War, the US Air Force sent 155 B-52 bombers to Guam to hit targets in Southeast Asia. Guam was also a refueling and transfer spot for people heading to Southeast Asia, and many refugees fleeing then-Saigon, Vietnam, were evacuated through Guam.

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