US Soldier Travis King Returns Home After North Korean Release
US soldier Travis King returns home after North Korean release, having been repatriated to American authorities several weeks after he inadvertently entered North Korea. This information was conveyed by State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller.
We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team that has worked tirelessly out of concern for Private King’s wellbeing. In addition, we thank the government of Sweden for its diplomatic role serving as the protecting power for the United States in the DPRK and the government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the transit of Private King.- US national security adviser Jake Sullivan
The release of Private King marks a noteworthy diplomatic achievement in the intricate relationship between the United States and North Korea. The endeavor to bring him back took place during a period of heightened tension, as American officials had openly cautioned Pyongyang against supplying weapons to Russia for its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, journeyed to Russia for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Furthermore, the United States has expressed strong disapproval of North Korea's ongoing series of ballistic missile tests, a development that has caused significant concern in South Korea.
In a report earlier on Wednesday, North Korean state media outlet KCNA announced the decision of the reclusive state to "expel" King, who had inadvertently entered North Korean territory while on a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) between North and South Korea back in July. According to the KCNA report, North Korea has concluded its investigation into King.
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State Department Spokesperson Miller confirmed that King is currently en route to the United States and is anticipated to arrive "in the next few hours."
According to Miller, the transfer of Private King from North Korean custody to American authorities was facilitated in Dandong, China, where he was received by the US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns.
CNN reported that Private King was transported by a Swedish convoy to the Friendship Bridge situated on the border separating North Korea and China. On the Chinese side of the bridge, Brigadier General Patrick Teague, the US Defense Attache to China, along with Ambassador Burns, received King and took him under US military jurisdiction.
Following this handover, Miller stated that Private King was airlifted to Shenyang, China, and subsequently to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea before his onward journey to the United States. Upon his return to the US, King is expected to be transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, as per information from two US officials.
Situated at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Brooke Army Medical Center stands as the largest healthcare facility within the Department of Defense, as detailed on the hospital's official website.
Brooke Army Medical Center houses a specialized Department of Defense Program called PISA (Post Isolation Support Activities). This program is designed to assist Americans in readjusting to their regular lives after experiencing periods of detention or isolation. It's worth mentioning that both Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner underwent this program after their release from detention in Russia.
American officials reported that Private King's release followed a period of "intense diplomacy" involving several nations, culminating in his transfer across the border into China and subsequent handover to US authorities on Wednesday.
The US government has successfully facilitated Private Travis King’s departure from the DPRK. His transfer culminates a monthslong effort involving multiple US government agencies undertaken out of concern for Private King’s well-being and a desire to reunite him with his family.- A senior administration official
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, spokesperson for the Pentagon, expressed gratitude to the US Army, US Forces Korea, and the Department of Defense for their collective efforts in securing Private King's return home. He also extended appreciation to the governments of China and Sweden "for their assistance" in this endeavor.
Earlier this month, the United States received communication from Sweden, serving as the protecting power for the US in North Korea, conveying Pyongyang's intent to release Private King. David Lunderquist, a spokesperson for the Swedish embassy, confirmed Sweden's involvement in facilitating King's release.
Additionally, another US official clarified on Wednesday that China's role was primarily focused on facilitating King's transfer out of North Korea and did not entail mediating in the process.
When questioned about whether the United States had made any concessions to North Korea in exchange for the transfer, officials emphatically asserted that no concessions had been made.
"The answer is simple: There were none. Full stop," the senior official said.
The official noted that President Joe Biden and other senior members of the administration have been receiving close briefings and closely monitoring the unfolding events.
US military officials have stated that Private King, a junior enlisted cavalry scout, entered North Korea "willfully and without authorization" in July. Prior to this incident, King had been released from a detention facility in South Korea just over a week earlier. His release seemed to stem from an October 2022 incident in which he was accused of assaulting someone at a club in Seoul, as detailed in court documents.
On the day before he crossed into North Korea, King was scheduled to board a flight to Texas, where he was to face disciplinary procedures. However, after Army escorts released him at a security checkpoint at Incheon International Airport near Seoul, King left the airport on his own accord. The following day, he joined a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) that he had previously arranged with a private company.
Notably, there is no physical barrier within the JSA. A US official had previously mentioned that after crossing the demarcation line marking the border, King attempted to enter a North Korean facility but found the door locked. He then ran to the back of the building, where North Korean guards quickly ushered him into a van and drove him away.
North Korea asserted on Wednesday that King had "confessed that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK as he harbored ill feelings against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society."
It should be noted that there is no verification of whether these are King's own words. Nevertheless, when asked on Wednesday whether King wished to return to the US, the official stated that it had become "quite clear" to US diplomats that "Private King was very happy to be on his way home."
The potential for additional disciplinary actions by the military upon King's return remains uncertain. When questioned on Wednesday about the possibility of a court martial for King, an official emphasized that the immediate focus for the next several weeks would be on King's health as he readjusts to civilian life.
"We’ll address any administrative actions that may follow after the reintegration process," the official said.
The official further emphasized that the military's current priority is to engage a "very talented and experienced team" to assess King's well-being and address any medical or emotional issues he may have. Regarding his "absent without leave," or AWOL, status, the official stated that they would address all related administrative status matters after the completion of his reintegration process.
As King makes his journey back to the US, an official has reported that he is currently in "good health and good spirits." Concerns about his well-being had been a significant worry for officials, who had been actively seeking more information from North Korea.
This situation brought to mind a high-profile case involving another American held in North Korea, Otto Warmbier, which tragically ended with his severe health deterioration. Otto Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor but was repatriated to the US in 2017, succumbing to severe brain damage less than a week after his return.
A spokesperson representing King's mother, Claudine Gates, expressed her enduring gratitude for the efforts made to secure her son's freedom.
"Ms. Gates will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done. For the foreseeable future, the family asks for privacy, and Ms. Gates does not intend to give any interviews," the statement from Jonathan Franks said. Officials added on Wednesday that a call was facilitated between King and his family.
"He is very much looking forward to being reunited with his family," an official said. "That is the sentiment that is pervading all else right now."