U.S. Invasion of North Korea Would Be 'Very Bloody, Very Quickly,' Expert Warns

What would it look like if the U.S. military launched a ground invasion of North Korea? Experts warn it could get "very bloody."

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recently said the only way to eliminate Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal with "complete certainty" would be to launch a ground invasion. There is limited intelligence on Kim Jong Un's regime and the locations of its military assets, which means airstrikes are not a fully reliable option.

If a ground invasion did occur it would be a part of a multipronged military effort, Mark Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies office in Washington, told Newsweek.

The invasion would primarily involve South Korean troops and U.S. special forces would provide intelligence and support. "The key part of a ground invasion would be the effort to seize North Korea's nuclear assets.... The issue would be finding out where they are," Fitzpatrick said.

If a U.S.-led ground invasion of North Korea did occur it would be a part of a multipronged, complex military effort. Getty Images

But before the involvement of ground forces, U.S. stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 and the B-2 bomber, would likely target any known nuclear sites or facilities (as well as the launching pads for intercontinental ballistic missiles). Then, U.S. and South Korean special forces would be parachuted in to locate and neutralize the remaining nuclear weapons. This would occur "rather early on" if full-blown conflict broke out, according to Fitzpatrick, who at one point was stationed in Seoul as a U.S. Foreign Services officer.

"This effort to seize the nuclear weapons—they wouldn't wait too long until after war-level hostilities broke out. They would have to try to seize them before they're used," he said.

Fitzpatrick warned such a conflict could "get very bloody, very quickly," noting that millions were killed during the Korean War in the 1950s, including roughly 33,000 U.S. troops. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, Fitzpatrick believes a war could rapidly result in over a million wounded or dead on either side.

"I think North Korea probably would use its nuclear weapons, at a relatively early stage of escalation, and would probably use them against U.S. bases in Japan and/or South Korea," he said.

But Fitzpatrick also emphasized he does not believe the U.S. would "purposefully" start a war with Kim Jong Un's regime. "The most likely scenario for war breaking out would probably be North Korea misinterpretating a statement or move [from the U.S. government]," he said.

President Donald Trump has been quite aggressive in his rhetoric toward North Korea. Over the summer, Trump said the reclusive nation would be met with "with fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it didn't stop threatening the U.S. Subsequently, as he addressed the United Nations for the first time in late September, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if it forced the U.S. to defend itself or its allies. Pyongyang, which conducted its sixth nuclear test in early September, has responded by threatening to conduct a seventh nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean.

Trump's advisers have publicly championed diplomacy when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang, but the president seemingly believes a military option is the best way forward.

During a White House briefing, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster says that time is running out for diplomatic options on North Korea. pic.twitter.com/fEpXw0LwMW

— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 2, 2017

The U.S. has roughly 24,000 troops stationed in South Korea and approximately 40,000 in Japan, a significant and formidable military presence. Meanwhile, North Korea has roughly 1.2 million troops, approximately 11,000 artillery units and is believed to have around 60 nuclear weapons. The U.S. might be the more advanced and equipped force, but it's widely agreed millions of innocent lives would be lost if it went to war with Kim's regime.

There's no guarantee North Korea's nukes would be wiped out before the country could retaliate, meaning millions of people—including 100,000 Americans living in the region—would be in imminent danger. Japanese and South Korean civilians would be under direct threat, as would U.S. troops and civilians stationed in those countries and in the nearby U.S. territory of Guam.

A recent Congressional Research Service report estimated as many as 300,000 could die in the first few days of fighting between the U.S. and North Korea, even without the use of nukes, and a separate assessment determined upwards of 2.1 million could perish if nuclear detonations occurred over Tokyo or Seoul.

In short, this is precisely why many feel there are no good military options when it comes to North Korea.