Video: US Soldier Returns From NKorea 09/28 06:15
(AP) -- The American soldier who sprinted into North Korea across the
heavily fortified border between the Koreas more than two months ago arrived
back in the U.S. early Thursday, video appeared to show.
North Korea abruptly announced Wednesday that it would expel Pvt. Travis
King. His return was organized with the help of ally Sweden and rival China,
according to the White House.
While officials have said King, 23, is in good health and the immediate
focus will be on caring for him and reintegrating him into U.S. society, his
troubles are likely far from over.
King, who had served in South Korea, ran into the North while on a civilian
tour of a border village on July 18, becoming the first American confirmed to
be detained in the isolated nation in nearly five years. At the time, he was
supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, following his release from prison
in South Korea on an assault conviction.
He has been declared AWOL from the Army. In many cases, someone who is AWOL
for more than a month can automatically be considered a deserter.
Punishment for going AWOL or desertion can vary, and it depends in part on
whether the service member voluntarily returned or was apprehended. King's
handover by the North Koreans makes that more complicated.
Video aired Thursday by a Texas news station appeared to show King walking
off a plane in San Antonio. Dressed in a dark top and pants, he could be seen
speaking briefly with people waiting on the tarmac. He shook hands with one
before being led into a building.
Officials earlier said he would be taken to Brooke Army Medical Center at
Fort Sam Houston in Texas. King is expected to undergo psychological
assessments and debriefings. He will also get a chance to meet with family.
He will be in military custody throughout the process since his legal
situation is complicated.
On Wednesday, Swedish officials took King to the Chinese border, where he
was met by U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, the Swedish ambassador to
China, and at least one U.S. Defense Department official.
He was then flown to a U.S. military base in South Korea before being
returned to the U.S.
It was not clear why the North -- which has tense relations with Washington
over Pyongyang's nuclear program, support for Russia's war in Ukraine and other
issues -- agreed to turn him over or why the soldier fled in the first place.
Several recent American detainees had been held for over a year -- 17 months
in the case of Otto Warmbier, a college student who was arrested during a group
tour. Warmbier was in a coma when he was deported, and later died.
North Korea has often been accused of using American detainees as bargaining
chips, and there had also been speculation that the North would try to maximize
the propaganda value of a U.S. soldier.
But analysts say King's legal troubles could have limited his propaganda
value, and Biden administration officials insisted they provided no concessions
to North Korea to secure his release.