US military personnel in South Korea received orders to evacuate immediately Thursday in what turned out to be an ill-timed hoax at a time of high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The orders came via text message and Facebook and targeted members of the military and their families.
The messages called for a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) which would affect family members and non-emergency essential Defense Department civilian employees stationed in South Korea, Stripes reports.
“USFK [US Forces Korea] did NOT issue this message,” the USKR said on Facebook. It explained it received “multiple” reports that people received the messages.
“All U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) family members are reminded to confirm any evacuation-related communications with their service member and unit non-combatant evacuation (NEO) representatives.” it said.
USFK spokesman Col. Chad Carroll told Stripes that “a handful of servicemembers and families” received the messages, but also said, “We have no accurate way to know how many people received it.”
“Incidents were ‘self-reported’ and many people claimed the message disappeared as soon as they unlocked their phone,” he added.
The incident is being investigated by cyber personnel. Whether a prank or a more sinister attempt to sow panic among US military, the messages likely caused confusion and panic among those who received it.
Tensions between the US and North Korea are high after Pyongyang conducted a series of missile tests that resulted in a war of words between Kim Jung-un and President Donald Trump.
Carroll commended the “informed, savvy family members plus an engaged chain of command” for not panicking.