American Soldier Released by North Korea, in US Custody
Travis King was released from detention in North Korea and transferred to the custody of U.S. officials on Sept. 27.
Travis King, a U.S. Army Private who illegally entered North Korea on July 18, has been “expelled” from the country and is in U.S. custody, The White House announced Wednesday, Sept. 27.
King was escorted by Swedish officials to the Chinese border, at which point U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and at least one more U.S. official were prepared to oversee the transfer of custody. King was then transported to an unidentified American military base though he is expected to finally arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas in the short term.
In the aforementioned statement on the matter, Jake Sullivan, national security advisor to President Joe Biden, thanked “the government of Sweden for its diplomatic role serving as the protecting power for the United States in the DPRK and the government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the transit of Private King.”
Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), the state news agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), announced the decision to expel the U.S. Army Private earlier in the day. According to KCNA, King entered the DPRK because he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society.” These statements cannot be reliably verified or attributed to King at this time.
It remains, at time of press, unclear why the decision was made to release King, though one official, speaking to The Associated Press under the condition of anonymity, speculated that the DPRK had “decided that King was more trouble to keep than to simply release him.” As a Private, it is not immediately clear what, if any value King would have provided for a foreign power. Likewise, senior officials in the Biden administration have indicated that the U.S. made no concessions to the DPRK in securing King’s release, with one saying that North Korean officials had conveyed to Swedish officials their desire to release King.
At the time of his crossing of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which divides North and South Korea, King was facing disciplinary action, including dishonorable discharge, for mutliple offenses committed during his time as a soldier stationed in South Korea. It was during a scheduled transit throught Incheon International Airport, where King was expected to board a flight to the United States, that he fled and joined a tour of the DMZ, where he later made his dash across the border and was taken into North Korean custody.
King was described as being in good health and spirit by one official speaking to AP. The Private was declared absent without leave (AWOL) by the U.S. Department of Defense two days after breaking from his planned transport to the U.S. and crossing into the DPRK, meaning he almost certainly will face some form of disciplinary action upon his arrival in the U.S.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.