(LONDON) — Travis King, the American soldier who crossed into North Korea two months ago, is back on U.S. soil.
An official with the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that King landed in San Antonio early Thursday at around 1:30 a.m. ET.
The news that King was back in U.S. custody came Wednesday morning.
“We can confirm that U.S. officials have secured the return of Private King and departed PRC airspace en route to a U.S. military base,” a senior Biden administration official said.
Later Wednesday, Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said in a statement that King could face future action from the Army but for now the focus is on his “well-being and privacy.”
King will be flown to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he will go through the military’s reintegration process used to re-acclimate Americans who have been detained overseas, two U.S. officials confirmed to ABC News. Typically that process takes place at Brooke Army Medical Center, which is located at Fort Sam Houston.
During his Wednesday afternoon press briefing, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller confirmed that King was in the air en route to the United States.
“The United States has secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Earlier today, he was transported to the border between North Korea and China, where he was met by our ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Nicholas Burns. He then boarded a State Department OpMed plane and flew from Dandong, China to Shenyang, China, and then on from Shenyang to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, where he was transferred to the Department of Defense,” Miller said.
Miller did not have additional details on how King was transported from inside North Korea to the country’s border with China. He also said he did not know if Pyongyang had requested anything for King’s freedom but reiterated that the U.S. had not made any concessions.
While he also didn’t know how King was treated while in custody, he said he “would certainly imagine that he was interrogated that was that would be consistent with past DPRK practice with respect to detainees.”
Securing the return of King back into U.S. custody from North Korea was the “culmination of a monthslong effort” that included multiple government agencies and the assistance of Sweden and China, according to senior administration officials.
“U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team that has worked tirelessly out of concern for Private King’s well-being. In addition, we thank 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,” Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
King “appears to be in good health and good spirits as he makes his way home” and has been able to speak with his family, senior administration officials told reporters Wednesday morning.
“Pv.t King was very happy to be on his way home. You know that that has been quite clear as we have resumed our contact with him and he is very much looking forward to being reunited with his family. That is the sentiment that is pervading all else right now,” an official said.
North Korea transferred King to representatives from Sweden in North Korea who then drove King across the border into China and transferred him to a waiting U.S. official who took custody of King, a U.S. official said. A short time later King was aboard a U.S. plane that flew him out of China and began his return back to the U.S., the official added.
“This was truly an extraordinary interagency effort and really an incredible example of teamwork, detailed planning and rehearsals and flawless conduct of what I would say as a truly complex operation,” an official said.
Officials said Sweden was the intermediary between the U.S. and the DPRK. Sweden has served as the protective power for the U.S. in the DPRK since 1995 and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang provide consular assistance to U.S. nationals in the DPRK, according to the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
“It is gratifying that Travis King was able to return to the United States and that Sweden has been able to assist in accordance with its responsibilities as protecting power for the US in North Korea,” the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
China did not assist in those discussions, but it “played a very constructive role in facilitating a transfer” out of China.
“The operational complexity that we’re pointing to here obviously includes a few factors. It includes the fact that the Swedish government transited into the DPRK. It includes the fact that we had to you know, be ready to receive him in the PRC and includes the fact that all of these pieces had to come together quickly and with the greatest concern for Private King’s care and ensuring his safe and healthy transit home,” a senior administration official said.
Officials were clear that there were no concessions for King’s release.
“In terms of the question on any concessions that might have been given, the answer is simple: There were none. Full stop,” an official said.
Sweden informed the U.S. that North Korea wanted to release King earlier this month, which led to the intense behind-the-scenes efforts to secure his transfer, senior administration officials said.
North Korea announced earlier Wednesday that it would expel King, who ran across the border from South Korea during a tour in July.
“The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
Miller confirmed Wednesday that Pyongyang had signaled a willingness to return King in recent days, but he noted that U.S. officials did not see this as a window for broader diplomacy with North Korea.
“I don’t know that I would take from this that it heralds some breakthrough in diplomatic relations. Obviously, we’re pleased to have secured his return,” he said. “We tried ton reach out to them when Travis King first crossed the border into North Korea, we tried to reach out a number of occasions. They rejected our direct approaches and ended up talking to Sweden, and Sweden talked to us and helped negotiate this transfer but I would not see this as the sign of some breakthrough. I think it’s a one off.”
King, a 23-year-old cavalry scout serving in South Korea, was due to return to the U.S. and face administrative separation actions after being detained in a South Korean facility for 47 days for an assault conviction.
On July 17, he was escorted by U.S. military officials to South Korea’s Incheon International Airport as far as the customs checkpoint. But instead of boarding the plane, he left the airport for a tour of the DMZ.
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