US military leaders who attended a classified exercise in Hawaii learned that a war with North Korea could result in around 10,000 American combat-related casualties in the opening days, according to a New York Times report published on Feb.28, 2018.
The tabletop exercise (TTX), which tests hypothetical scenarios, lasted several days and included Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley and Special Operations Command commander Gen. Raymond Thomas.
While the number of troops who could potentially be wounded in such combat may be startling, civilian casualties were predicted to range from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands, according to The Times. The US stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea, while the capital of Seoul — which is in range of North Korea's crude, yet devastating artillery fire — has a population of about 24 million.
Given the scope of a war, Milley said that "the brutality of this will be beyond the experience of any living soldier," officials familiar with the TTX said in the report.
According to The Times, military leaders looked at various factors, including how many Special Operations forces could deploy to target nuclear sites in North Korea; whether the US Army's conventional units could end up fighting in tunnels; and methods to destroy the country's air defenses to pave the way for US aircraft.
Immediate tensions between North Korean and US-South Korean leaders appear to have subsided in recent weeks after the North's participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. But US officials remain skeptical of North Korea's diplomatic overtures.
Though various Trump administration officials have given conflicting statements on US policy, Trump said on Feb. 26, 2018 that he would be open to talks with North Korea "only under the right conditions."
The US State Department also echoed Trump's assertions: "Our condition is denuclearization," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
"Our policy has not changed. We have talked about this policy since day one of this administration; and that's maximum pressure, but it's also the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."