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Pence blasts North Korea, lauds US military strength during troop talk at Yokota

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Vice President Mike Pence slammed North Korea for human-rights abuses and touted American military strength during a speech to troops Thursday at the home of U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force in western Tokyo.

Flanked by a pair of F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters inside one of Yokota’s massive hangars, Pence got a warm welcome to the stage from U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez and 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Kenneth Moss. A day earlier, after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the vice president had warned that “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions” would soon be imposed on North Korea.

On Thursday, standing in the same spot where President Donald Trump spoke to servicemembers in November, Pence blasted Pyongyang’s treatment of its own people.

“As we speak, an estimated 100,000 North Korean citizens labor in modern-day gulags,” he said. “Those who dare raise their voices in dissent are imprisoned, tortured and even murdered, and their children and grandchildren routinely punished for their family’s sins against the state.”

Pence said Yokota’s servicemembers are part of a long line of warriors who have sacrificed for freedom in the region. He told them about a young 45th Infantry Division officer who was awarded a Bronze Star in the Korean War.

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“He’s been gone now almost as long as I had the chance to know him, but that medal sits on my desk in the West Wing of the White House and bears the name of [2nd] Lt. Edward J. Pence, my dad,” he said.

Yokota is a “citadel of strength,” said Pence, who toured operations centers at the base where personnel keep tabs on North Korean military moves. U.S. and Japanese troops gathered there represent the greatest concentration of combined military might anywhere in the world, he added.

“All across these lands and skies America’s matchless strength is on display every day,” he said.

He cited the Yokosuka-based USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and supporting ships, forward-deployed F-18 and F-35B fighters and submarines as assets that are “positioned to respond to dangers and threats with overwhelming force.”

A Nuclear Posture Review will make American forces more flexible and deter any strategic attack on the U.S. or its allies and make the world’s strongest military even stronger, he said.

“Thanks to the president’s leadership and bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, Congress has passed a two-year budget deal that includes the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan,” he said.

The budget adds $80 billion to defense spending including the largest pay increase for servicemembers in eight years, Pence added.

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After his speech, Pence traveled to South Korea, where he is scheduled to attend opening ceremonies for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Friday.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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