2023October 2023International News

US Secures Release of American Soldier from North Korea

Ryan Campbell
Staff Writer

On July 19, 2023, U.S. Army Private Travis King suddenly sprinted across the North Korean border during a routine Joint Security Area (JSA) tour. After being detained in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for over 2 months, King was released into China on September 27. Questions about why King dashed into North Korea and what the results of his actions will be are still unanswered. 

Before crossing the border, King had just completed a two-month prison sentence in South Korea for assault and damaging property, according to CNN, and was expected to be separated from the military after being found guilty in a court-martial relating to the charges. Instead of boarding his scheduled flight back to the U.S., King joined one of the two JSA tours he had booked prior to his prison sentence, reports Reuters. At 3:30, while the tour group stood at the border, King ran for North Korea.

As the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, diplomats from Sweden mediated talks of releasing Private King, per The Associated Press,  and eventually escorted him to the Chinese border on September 27. There, he was met by State Department officials and the U.S. ambassador to China. The Biden administration has also thanked China for its role in facilitating King’s journey back to the U.S. When asked in a White House press briefing, a Biden administration senior official contended that there were no concessions given to the DPRK in exchange for the transfer of Private King. 

As reported by , North Korea decided to expel King earlier in September.  states that North Korea’s state run news agency justified the decision by claiming King had crossed the border illegally and would be deported. And why would King cross the border illegally? Another comment by state-run news, and reported by Reuters, says King was disillusioned with an unequal U.S. society and sought refuge in the DPRK due to racial discrimination in the U.S. Army. But in an interview with CBS News, Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul speculates that King was unsuitable for propaganda purposes and the lukewarm response from Washington to his capture most likely influenced the decision to deport King. He added that the decision to deport King may also be an attempt by North Korea to prove that they no longer uses political prisoners for diplomatic purposes. 

The next steps for King are typical of a returned prisoner of war. He will undergo medical and mental health evaluations, per Reuters, but there is no clear timeline for how long this will take. However, the U.S. military has not announced any consequences for King’s actions besides categorizing them as willful and without authorization, reported by CNN. CNN also inquired about his status in the military, but the U.S. military did not comment on whether King’s actions qualified as desertion. Howecer, the Associated Press confirms that the U.S. military officially declared King AWOL after he crossed the border. One U.S. official stated in an interview with Reuters that the military would consider administrative action against King after his evaluations, but declined to comment on whether he would be court-martialed. 

Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps colonel and senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN the military will likely just get rid of King without the trouble of a full trial. According to Cancian, the entire process could take six months or longer to review the case, and King would have to continue to work for the military in that time. Ultimately, the military is declining to comment on King’s future at this time, and, for privacy reasons, any updates on King’s status will likely only be released after the affair is settled.

Image courtesy of Flickr

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