KIM Jong-un's death could force the US and South Korea into military action which would "make Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison", experts warn.
They fear the power void left behind by the despot's demise may erupt into an ugly civil war involving rival military units within the mighty North Korean army.
Regional observers say any chaos sparked in the wake of Kim's death could then lead to an intervention by the South and it's powerful ally America.
On Tuesday it was claimed it was not known if Kim was "dead or alive" following reports he had undergone secret heart surgery.
One senior White House reporter said she had been told Trump officials were already looking into who would be in line for succession.
However, both South Korea and China later said they believed reports he was in "grave danger" were unfounded.
And a top Pentagon official today said Kim was likely to be still in 'full control' of his military.
Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten said: "In the intel, I don't have anything to confirm or deny anything along those lines, so I assume that Kim Jong-un is still in full control of the Korean nuclear force and the Korean military forces."
Now David Maxwell, a retired special forces colonel and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, has explained how things could go very wrong, very quickly.
He told the Military Times: "Units of the North Korean People's Army are going to compete for resources and survival.
"This will lead to internal conflict among units and could escalate to widespread civil war."
And he fears the bloodshed in the nuclear state could lead to South Korea being forced into action dragging the US into the fight.
He said: "The ROK/US alliance is going to have to be prepared to secure and render safe the entire WMD program, nuclear, chemical, biological weapons and stockpiles, manufacturing facilities, and human infrastructure.
"This is a contingency operation that will make Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison."
Maxwell's warning came as basketball legend Dennis Rodman revealed he was "praying" his old pal Kim makes a quick recovery.
"I hope it's just a rumour that Marshal Kim Jong-un is sick," Rodman has told TMZ. "Hopefully I will find out more soon."
"There is still so much work we have to do between both the USA and DPRK," he added.
"If he is not feeling well, I am praying for his speedy recovery, so that both my friends (President Trump & Marshal Kim) can continue towards a peaceful success."
The former Chicago Bulls legend has a long-standing a bizarre friendship with the North Korean leader.
In 2013, he hosted a series of basketball exhibitions in the rogue state and was the first American citizen to personally meet Kim.
Describing his bromance, Rodman once told Good Morning Britain: "I hang out with him all the time.
"We laugh, we sing karaoke, we do a lot of cool things together like skiing and riding horses."
North Korea's supreme leader, 36, missed the celebration of his grandfather Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15, first sparking speculation about his health and was last seen on April 11.
It has been claimed he is currently recovering at a villa in the resort town of Hyangsan after undergoing a "cardiovascular surgical procedure" on April 12.
Kim's health had deteriorated in recent months due to heavy smoking, obesity, and overwork.
However, reports coming out of the rogue state today appear to challenge rumours Kim is either dead or incapacitated.
State media claimed he had thanked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his good wishes on the birthday anniversary of the country's founder.
"Kim Jong-un expressed his deep thanks to the president of the Syrian Arab Republic for sending his heartfelt message of greeting, reflecting the warm respect for president Kim Il-sung, who is always alive in the hearts of the Korean people," stated KCNA.
However it did not address the escalating rumours about the "Glorious Leader's" health.
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