LONDON — Travis King, the US soldier who crossed into North Korea two months ago, is back in US custody, a US official has confirmed.
“We can confirm that U.S. officials have secured Private King’s return and departed PRC airspace en route to a U.S. military base,” a senior administration official said Wednesday morning.
Securing King’s return to U.S. custody from North Korea was the “culmination of a months-long effort” involving multiple government agencies and assistance from Sweden and China, according to senior administration officials.
“US officials have secured the return of soldier Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team who worked tirelessly out of concern for Private King’s well-being. In addition, we thank the Government of Sweden for its diplomatic role as a protective force for the United States in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating Private King’s passage,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
King “appears to be in good health and in good spirits on his way home” and has been able to talk to his family, senior administration officials told reporters Wednesday morning.
“Private King was very happy to be on his way home. You know that has been very clear as we have resumed our contact with him and he is very much looking forward to being reunited with his family. That’s the feeling that permeates everything else right now,” said one official.
North Korea turned King over to representatives from Sweden in North Korea, who then took King across the border into China and turned him over 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 to the U.S., the official added.
“This was truly an extraordinary interagency effort and truly an incredible example of teamwork, detailed planning and rehearsals and impeccable execution of what I would say was a truly complex operation,” one official said.
Officials said Sweden was the intermediary between the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. China did not assist in these discussions, but it “played a very constructive role in facilitating a transfer” from China.
“The operational complexity we point out here obviously involves a few factors. It includes the fact that the Swedish government has traveled to the DPRK. It includes the fact that, as you know, we had to be ready to receive him in the People’s Republic of China and includes the fact that all these pieces had to come together quickly and with the utmost care for Private King’s care and ensuring his safe and healthy passage home,” a senior government official said.
Officials were clear that there were no concessions for King’s release.
“As for the question about any concessions that may have been made, the answer is simple: there are none. Period,” one official said.
Sweden informed the US earlier this month that North Korea wanted to release King, leading to intensive behind-the-scenes efforts to secure his transfer, senior government officials said.
North Korea announced earlier Wednesday that it would expel King, who crossed the border during a tour with South Korea in July.
“The relevant body of the DPRK has decided to deport Travis King, a US Army soldier who illegally entered the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
(FILES) In this photo taken in Seoul on August 16, 2023, a man walks past a television showing a news broadcast with a photo of US soldier Travis King (C) crossing the border with North Korea during a tour crossed. group visiting the demilitarized zone on the South Korean border on July 18. North Korea has decided to expel US soldier Travis King, who was detained after crossing the border from the south in July, state news agency KCNA said on September 27.
Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images
King, a 23-year-old cavalry scout who served in South Korea, was set to return to the U.S. and face administrative separation actions after being held in a South Korean facility for 47 days on an assault conviction.
On July 17, he was escorted by U.S. military officials to Incheon International Airport in South Korea, through customs checkpoints. But instead of boarding the plane, he left the airport for a tour of the DMZ.