Living in a constant state of anxiety has become routine for millions of Americans who are terrified of a war with North Korea. Unfortunately, hearing that the U.S. Army is training soldiers to fight in the tunnels of the Asian nation probably won’t do much to set the general public’s mind at ease.
North Korea is home to an exceptionally expansive network of underground passageways that could certainly be used to its advantage during a military conflict. Based on this knowledge, U.S. officials confirmed to NPR that thousands more American soldiers are being taught to engage in combat within the confines of the subterranean system, which is said to consist of upwards of 5,000 tunnels. As recently as December, Texas-based soldiers participated in training exercises where they tested out new high-tech equipment and communications systems designed to help them navigate South Korea’s tunnels. Reportedly, the tunnel warfare expertise will serve as an appropriate option for Donald Trump to utilize should a nightmarish nuclear standoff between the U.S. and North Korea actually come to pass.
While Army officials refused to confirm details about the training, officials say the Pentagon is in the process of purchasing all the necessary gear needed for soldiers to navigate the North Korean tunnel system, up to and including “radios and night vision goggles, along with acetylene torches and bolt cutters.”
Between this development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kicking the year off by briefing public health officials on nuclear war and the U.S. sending troops, ships and bomber aircraft toward the Korean peninsula, it may be tempting to press the panic button and brace yourself for the worst possible outcome. However, U.S. Army Reserves officer Matt C. Pinsker tells Playboy that the tunnel training isn’t necessarily an indication of a forthcoming war.
“It is unsurprising that the U.S. military is preparing for tunnel warfare,” says Pinkser, who teaches national security at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Much of the North Korean military—in particular, their artillery in firing range of Seoul, South Korea—is in caves and tunnels. From a military perspective, this [is] advantageous because it means that their artillery is difficult to detect or destroy, and for offensive purposes can be quickly brought out and fired, and then promptly brought back into caves where it will continue being undetected. It can be thought of like a prairie dog that pops out of its hole, then pops back in when it is done.”
According to Newsweek, North Korean defectors confirmed the existence of the so-called “Tunnels of Aggression” in 1974, claiming that the underground matrix had been constructed for the purpose of infiltrating the South. Due to the tunnels’ increasing infamy, some of the tunnels in South Korea’s Demilitarized Zones have since become tourist attractions, which may sound like an extremely risky way to satisfy curiosity, particularly to the scores of Americans who sense an international conflict on the horizon.
Citing the volatility of the Korean peninsula, as well as the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program, Pinsker believes the unpredictability of the situation completely justifies the Army’s decision to take precautions.
“While it is everyone’s hope that the situation does not escalate, in the event it does, we need to be prepared,” Pinkser says. “It is standard practice for the military to conduct exercises and training in response to global events, and this is no different. This is not the sign of an impending invasion, but merely steps by military leaders to ensure that we are prepared to act should the need arise.”