Mattis says war could escalate 'very quickly' if N. Korea fires at US

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisUS Customs stops traffic into country at key border point of entry Trump and Congress on collision course with military spending Trump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny MORE said Monday that the United States will attempt to shoot down any North Korean missile launched at the country or its territories.

"We’ll take it out," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

He later said that, should a North Korean missile hit U.S. soil, including the Pacific island of Guam, it would constitute an act of war.

“If they shoot at the United State, I’m assuming they hit the United States. If they do that, it’s game on,” Mattis added.

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North Korea last week threatened to launch ballistic missiles at waters off the coast of Guam, a U.S. territory that hosts about 6,000 American troops and thousands of civilians.

The isolated nation made the statement after President Trump warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to stop making threats against the U.S. and allies or it would "be met with fire and fury ... like the world has never seen."

North Korea then warned that a plan to attack Guam would be in place by mid-August.

Mattis said the Defense Department would “know within moments” if a North Korean missile has been launched and if it was headed toward Guam.  

I think if they fire at the United States it could escalate into war very quickly. Yes, that’s called war, if they shoot at us,” Mattis said.

Mattis also said that should North Korea fire in the direction of Guam but not hit the territory, “that becomes an issue that we take up however the president chooses.”

“War is up to the president, perhaps up to the Congress. The bottom line is we will defend the country from an attack,” he later said. “Yes, that means for a lot of young troops, they’re going to be in a war time situation.”

He added: “You don’t shoot at people in this world. You don’t shoot at people in this world unless you want to bear the consequences.”