Why This Tiny Island Is Caught Between The U.S. & North Korea’s Escalating Feud

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As President Donald Trump's exchanges threats with North Korea, one island in the Pacific has found itself caught in the crosshairs. Hours after Trump threatened to meet North Korean threats with "fire and fury," Pyongyang claimed Wednesday it was examining plans to send "enveloping fire" down on Guam. Although the declaration has caused already-high tensions between Washington and Pyongyang to skyrocket, it has also caught many mainland Americans by surprise. Why would President Trump's warning cause North Korea to take such an incredibly hostile stance toward a tiny Pacific island? Is Guam even part of the United States?

While not a state, Guam is still very much a part of the United States. The tiny island is an one of 13 unincorporated U.S. territories and everyone born on the island is considered to be an American citizen by birth, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

But Guam hasn't always been under U.S. control. Although Guam's indigenous people have lived on the island for thousands of years, settlers from Spain colonized the island in the mid-1600s. In 1898, the island was seized by the Unites States during the Spanish-American War. Following the war, Spain ceded Guam to the United in the Treaty of Paris. In 1941, Japan seized Guam shortly after it attacked Pearl Harbor and occupied the island for roughly two-and-a-half years. American forces recaptured Guam in 1944 following the Second Battle of Guam.

So why is North Korea targeting Guam? As the largest island in the Mariana Islands archipelago, Guam is considered to reside in a very strategic location in the western north Pacific. Due to its close proximity to North Korea — Guam is roughly 2,100 miles from the Korean Peninsula — the United States has long used Guam to keep its eye on Pyongyang, fortifying the island with a heavy U.S. military presence.

According to USA Today, Guam "is home to 7,000 American military personnel, strategic bombers, and Navy ships within striking range of Pacific hot spots, including the Korean Peninsula." A 2014 report from Andersen Air Force Base stated that the tiny U.S. territory houses the "largest munitions stockpile in the world." The island is also reportedly home to an anti-ballistic missile task force heavily concentrated on North Korea.

Unsurprisingly, the heavy military presence on Guam hasn't sat well with North Korea, who claimed Wednesday it would be ready to launch four intermediate range missiles over Japan and toward Guam by mid-August.