December 19th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

FIRST ON CNN: U.S. seeing no unexpected moves by North Korea

By Barbara Starr reporting from Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Chris Lawrence at the Pentago

The United States has seen no unexpected moves by the North Korean military since the announcement of Kim Jong Il's death, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States is remaining "vigilant" in the wake of the death of the North Korean leader.

In the first extended on the record comments from a senior U.S. official, Dempsey told a small group of reporters he was awakened overnight to receive the news and immediately joined in an inter-agency phone call of high levels officials to discuss the situation.

Dempsey said he was informed "in the middle of the night" and the military held an overnight call that centered around identifying the key military and intelligence indicators that the U.S. would keep watch on in the coming days for any early warning of instability in the regime.  Though Kim died on Saturday, U.S. officials only learned of his death from North Korean television on Sunday night, administration officials tell CNN.

"The chain of command military and civilian very quickly coalesced around the fact that Kim Jon Jil had died," Dempsey said. "We quickly established a network of leaders to discuss this issue and to determine what we could do to contribute to understanding what might happen next."

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-Jin, the Republic of Korea’s Minister for National Defense, on Monday morning, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.  The call lasted 15 minutes

“He made it clear that the United States stands with the Republic of Korea in this time of uncertainty. Both men agree it is critical to remain prudent in regards to all matters relating to our security posture there, and pledge to keep one another informed in the coming days. Both men agree this is a delicate time, and they need to closely monitor developments in North Korea," said Little.

So far there are no signs of movement of troops or weapons by the North Koreans he said.

"No North Korean military movements connected to Kim Jong il’s death have been detected," said Pentagon spokesman George Little on Thursday.

However, Dempsey also noted concerns about the designated successor Kim Jong Un, including his youth and inexperience.  A key question will be whether he can take over and exert control of the government.

"We have done a significant amount of work to try to understand him and I would only say at this point that he is young to be placed in this position and we will have to see whether in fact it is him and how reacts to the burden of governance that he hasn't had to deal with before," Dempsey said.

This summer, the commander of American troops in South Korea told Congress that the United States does not believe Kim Jong Un will differ much in decision making from his father or in adjusting the country's strategic priorites.  However, Gen. James Thurman warned of the wildcard of having such a young, inexperienced leader.

"Kim Jong-un's youth and inexperience increase the likelihood of miscalculation, as does the imperative for him to establish credibility with the military hardliners he needs to support succession," Thurman told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a written answer.

Dempsey said the U.S. Pacific Command has reported it has sufficient intelligence assets in the area to keep surveillance on North Korea, but it may shift some capabilities to the peninsula from where they are currently located in the region.

US military officials are keeping a close eye on the transition in North Korea, but have not seen any evidence to warrant a change in base security or American troop movements, according to military officials.

"The commander continually assesses our security level and makes adjustments as necessary. But we're operating under what's called 'normal armistice conditions.' In other words, the level of readiness is as it is on any given day," Jennifer Buschick, spokeswoman for U.S. Forces-Korea, told CNN.

U.S. Forces-Korea's official website lists the current Force Protection level as "Bravo," with some selected measures at a more heightened "Charlie" level.  That means they've stepped up patrols of bases, tightened gate security and ordered troops to pay special attention to "designated vulnerable points" both on and off base.  But these measures were in place before Kim Jong Il's death, along with a recent reinstatement of an overnight curfew for U.S. troops in South Korea.

North Korea fired off a missile but U.S. military officials dismissed the idea that North Korea’s short-range missile test was a “show of force” in the wake of Kim Jong il’s death.

“We currently believe this missile test was pre-planned. There are strong indications that it was pre-planned, and there is no nexus to the death of the North Korean leader," one of the military officials said.

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