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- Earlier this year, President Donald Trump reportedly told former national security adviser H.R. McMaster to prepare for a possible evacuation of the 8,000 military dependents living in South Korea.
- The plan was never carried out, but if it had been, it would have raised alarms for US allies and North Korea.
- Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly persuaded Trump not to pull military dependents out, and instead, prohibit service members stationed in South Korea from bringing their family members with them in the future.
- Republican lawmakers called for similar plans in 2017.
US President Donald Trump indicated he was considering pulling the families of US service members living in South Korea out of the region, a move that would have raised alarms for US allies and North Korea, according to a CNN report published Tuesday.
Trump had reportedly told his then-national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, to prepare evacuation plans for around 8,000 military dependents, weeks before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, several current and former administrations officials told CNN.
McMaster ordered National Security Council staffers to draft a memorandum outlining the evacuation, which then made its way to White House chief of staff John Kelly.
One senior administration official described Trump’s request as a direct order: “It wasn’t, ‘I’m thinking about it,'” the official said. “We saw it as a done deal.”
Eventually, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Kelly persuaded Trump not to evacuate military dependents from the Korean Peninsula, and instead, prohibit service members stationed in South Korea from bringing their family members with them in the future. Around 28,500 US troops are currently stationed in South Korea.
- Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
But neither of the orders were given, and the Winter Olympics concluded without unexpected provocations from North Korea.
It was unclear what led Trump to believe an evacuation of South Korea was necessary at that time. But had the order been carried out, it would have sent shockwaves throughout the global community.
At the time, White House officials were reportedly considering options for a “bloody nose” strike against North Korea – an assertion that some officials called patently false. Though the exact scope of such a strike remains unclear, the prevailing theory is that of a limited engagement intended to send a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
An immediate evacuation would likely have indicated to allies and the North Korean regime that the US was preparing for a conflict, which would have further escalated the tensions between the two countries.
Several Republican lawmakers expressed their support for such a plan in 2017.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an ardent North Korea hawk, floated the idea on a televised talk show in December: “It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea,” Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” at the time
“South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour,” Graham continued. ”So, I want them to stop sending dependents, and I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.”