Asia pivot on track, Pentagon says

The Defense Department’s spokesman on Thursday said military leaders remain committed to carrying out President Obama’s pivot to Asia, despite ongoing unrest in other parts of the world.

“I mean, more than 350,000 American troops are based somewhere in the Pacific, 200 ships, the majority of the Navy is in the Pacific. And we have five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific region. We're very committed to that region,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.

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Kirby also pointed out that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel just returned from his sixth trip to the region and plans to make four visits this year. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will travel to the region next week, Kirby added.

The pivot, or rebalance, of U.S. military forces away from Europe and the Middle East toward the Pacific has been a major strategic goal for the Obama administration. The move is widely viewed as a means to counter China’s rapidly expanding military and a belligerent North Korea.

However, U.S. military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Russia’s aggressive behavior toward Ukraine have overshadowed the effort.

On Thursday, Kirby said the DOD would not “take our eye off the ball of the rest of the world."

“We know we have security commitments around the world in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, and we continue to work mightily on those commitments. And there's been no slackening in that regard,” he said.

But, Kirby warned, if sequestration “remains the law of the land, it's going to be harder and harder" for the U.S. to live up to its security obligations.

“The defense strategy that we put forward, which allows us to conduct this rebalance and still focus on those parts of the world, will be put in jeopardy,” Kirby said.

His comments came the same day as reports that North Korea fired three short-range rockets off its east coast, possibly to distract attention from Pope Francis's visit to the South Korean capital of Seoul.

“The pope worries about a higher authority than Kim Jong Un,” Kirby joked in reference to North Korea’s leader.

He said it would be an "exercise in futility" to attempt to figure out the reclusive regime's intentions.