A U.S. official has confirmed that Travis King, the American soldier who entered North Korea two months ago, is now back in American custody.
“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 administration official said Wednesday morning.
Later on Wednesday, Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee issued a statement in which he said that while King might face further punishment from the Army, the priority right now is his “well-being and privacy.”
Two U.S. officials confirmed to ABC News that 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 imprisoned abroad. Typically, that procedure happens at Fort Sam Houston’s Brooke Army Medical Center.
State Department spokesman Matt Miller confirmed that King was flying to the US during his Wednesday afternoon press briefing.
Miller was unable to provide any further information regarding King’s journey from within North Korea to its border with China. He added that he was unsure of Pyongyang’s requests for King’s freedom but emphasized that the United States has not given any compromises.
He acknowledged that he was likewise unaware of King’s treatment while he was being held, but added that he “would certainly imagine that he was interrogated in a manner that would be consistent with past DPRK practice with respect to detainees.”
According to top administration officials, securing King’s repatriation back into American custody from North Korea was the “culmination of a monthslong effort” that involved numerous government agencies as well as the support of Sweden and China.
Senior administration sources told reporters on Wednesday morning that King “appears to be in good health and good spirits as he makes his way home” and has been able to communicate with his family.
King was given over by North Korea to Swedish representatives there, who then drove him into China and handed him over to a waiting American official who took custody of him, according to a U.S. official.
King left China shortly after that and started flying back to the United States on a U.S. aircraft, the official continued.
According to officials, Sweden served as a bridge between the United States and the DPRK. According to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden has protected the United States in the DPRK since 1995. American citizens living in the country are given consular aid by both the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.
China “played a very constructive role in facilitating a transfer” out of China but did not participate in those conversations.
There were no concessions made in exchange for King’s release, according to officials.
Intense efforts were made behind the scenes to facilitate King’s transfer after Sweden alerted the U.S. that North Korea wished to release King early this month, according to senior administration officials.
King, who crossed the border from South Korea during a trip in July, was to be expelled from North Korea, according to a statement made earlier on Wednesday.
Miller acknowledged on Wednesday that Pyongyang has recently shown a desire to return King, but he added that American authorities did not view this as a chance to engage in more extensive negotiations with North Korea.
After being detained in a South Korean facility for 47 days owing to an assault conviction, King, a 23-year-old cavalry scout serving in South Korea, was scheduled to return to the United States and face administrative separation proceedings.
On July 17, he was escorted by representatives of the U.S. military to the customs checkpoint at the Incheon International Airport in South Korea. But he left the airport for a tour of the DMZ rather than getting on the plane.