SAN ANTONIO – The U.S. has secured the release of a U.S. soldier who sprinted across a heavily fortified border into North Korea more than two months ago, and he is on his way to San Antonio for a medical evaluation and treatment, officials announced Wednesday. U.S. ally Sweden and rival China helped with the transfer.
Pvt. Travis King was brought by a Swedish convoy to the Friendship bridge on the border between North Korea and Dandong, China, according to two US officials. Sweden has acted as the interlocutor between the US and North Korea, senior administration officials said earlier.
On the Chinese side of the bridge, the U.S. Defense Attaché from the U.S. embassy to China met King and took him into U.S. military custody. He was then taken to an airport in China, where he subsequently flew to Osan Air Base in South Korea, the US officials added.
“U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team that has worked tirelessly out of concern for Private King’s wellbeing.”
King, 23, is expected to fly back to the United States on a U.S. military flight overnight and arrive in San Antonio in the early hours of Thursday, the officials said. He will be taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for medical evaluation and care. The hospital has a Defense Department program known as Post-Isolation Support Activities to help acclimate back to normal life after being detained. Both Trevor Reed and Brittany Griner were taken there after they were released from Russia.
Left unanswered were questions of why Pyongyang—which has tense relations with Washington over the North’s nuclear program, support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and other issues—had agreed to turn him over and why the soldier had fled in the first place.
North Korea had abruptly announced earlier Wednesday that it would expel King — though some had expected the North to drag out his detention in hopes of squeezing concessions from Washington at a time of high tensions between the two countries.
Officials said they did not know exactly why North Korea decided to expel King, but suspected Pyongyang determined that as a low-ranking serviceman, he had no real value in terms of either leverage or information. One official, who was not authorized to comment and requested anonymity, said the North Koreans may have decided that King was more trouble to keep than to simply release him.
King’s expulsion almost certainly does not end his troubles or ensure the sort of celebratory homecoming that has accompanied the releases of other detained Americans. He has been declared AWOL from the Army, which can mean punishment in a military jail, forfeiture of pay or a dishonorable discharge.
In the near term, officials said that their focus would be on helping King reintegrate into U.S. society, including helping him address mental and emotional concerns, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the transfer.
Editor’s Note: The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.