Navy moves destroyers ahead of possible North Korea missile launch

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Navy is moving some warships into position to monitor a possible upcoming North Korean launch of a long-range ballistic missile, Defense Department officials said Thursday.

The USS Benfold and the USS Fitzgerald — both guided missile destroyers — are moving into positions, although the Navy declined to give their exact location. They are being sent to monitor for a possible launch and “provide reassurance to allies,” according two Defense Department officials.

It’s possible two additional ships will be sent in the next few days, the officials added.

North Korea appears to be working toward its goal of launching a rocket later this month, with a recent satellite image showing preparations continuing around the site.

The December 4 image provided to CNN by satellite imagery company GeoEye shows increased activity by workers on the launch pad, an imagery analyst told CNN.com’s Security Clearance. The launch pad activity was not evident in an image from DigitalGlobe taken three days earlier.

“I don’t believe that a launch is imminently imminent, but what we are seeing is sort of what they call the beginning of the end of launch preparations,” Allison Puccioni, an analyst with Jane’s IHS who writes about North Korean imagery for Jane’s Defense Weekly, said last week. “Prior to this, we had not seen much in the way of rocket launch pad activity, but now we are seeing some significant stuff happening,” such as additional work on the rocket launch tower, she said.

North Korea says it intends to launch a rocket it claims is for science and research purposes sometime between December 10 and December 22. The United States has condemned the test because the launch employs the same technology that would be used in a test of ballistic missiles. The launch would also be a violation of two separate resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council.