By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 20, 2023) -- On Tuesday, Army Pvt. Travis T. King joined a tour group of the Joint Security Area at the demilitarized zone in Panmunjom, Korea. While on that tour, King crossed into North Korea and has not been heard from since.
That same day, King had been escorted to the security area of an airport in South Korea and was scheduled to fly home. King had previously faced disciplinary action while stationed in South Korea and had served time in a correctional facility. It was expected that upon his return to the United States, he would face additional administrative action with the Army.
"He wasn't in custody when he was going through the airport," Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters during a briefing today. "He was flying home."
Now, DOD officials, the United Nations Command, the State Department, the National Security Council and others are working to find out where he is, what his condition is, and plans to bring him back to the United States.
"Our biggest concern about Pvt. King is that we want to bring him home and we are doing whatever we can through the interagency, from DOD and other partners, to find a way that we could bring him home," said Singh.
The Army has launched an investigation into what happened with King, Singh said, and that investigation will be led by Army counterintelligence personnel and done in conjunction with U.S. Forces Korea.
"We don't know his motivations for why he did not board the plane, we don't know what he did in the hours between when he left the airport and when he crossed over into the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]," Singh said. "We have snippets of time and understand from ... we've seen some of the publicly reported imagery of him taking the tour, of what time that was. But beyond that window of sort ... what he did during the time ... between when he left the airport and the tour, that's something that the investigation is going to have to look into."
So far, Singh said, despite U.S. efforts to communicate with the North Koreans about the status of King, the North Koreans have not responded.
"We haven't received any communication back from them," Singh said. "All we can do is continue to communicate both publicly and in private channels. It is of course concerning when you don't hear back but we've never also had engagement with the North Koreans, and they certainly have shut down military-to-military engagement with us at the senior level."
On Tuesday, during a press conference that followed the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said the department is monitoring and investigating the situation.
"In terms of my concerns, I'm absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troop," Austin said. "We will remain focused on this, and again, this will develop in the next several days and hours and we'll keep you posted."
King is a cavalry scout and enlisted in the Army in January 2021. He has never been deployed. During his rotation in Korea, he was originally assigned to 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. He is currently administratively attached to 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.