Allies are preparing for their largest combined military maneuver in years to counter the growing threat of Kim's nuclear arsenal.
Live fire simulating an attack on a South Korean air base
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw an artillery drill with live fire simulating an attack on a South Korean air base, sending a clear message to the United States and South Korea. The drill is part of North Korea's growing campaign to assert its ability to conduct nuclear strikes against South Korea and the U.S. mainland. In response, allies are preparing for their largest combined military maneuver in years to counter the growing threat of Kim's nuclear arsenal.
The North Korean state media report came just after the South Korean military detected the North launching at least one short-range ballistic missile into the sea from a site near the coastal city of Nampo. The U.S. recently sent B-1B and B-52 long-range bombers for several joint aerial exercises with South Korean warplanes, which North Korea views as invasion rehearsals. North Korea's official news agency, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said Kim urged his troops to be ready to "overwhelmingly respond to and contain" military actions by North Korea's enemies. The KCNA report did not specify what types of weapons were involved in Thursday's exercise or how many rockets were fired.
North Korea's more advanced short-range systems are described as tactical weapons, implying an intention to arm them with low-powered nuclear bombs intended for the battlefield. Experts believe North Korea is communicating a threat to use these weapons proactively during conventional warfare to weaken the stronger conventional forces of South Korea and the United States, which maintains about 28,000 troops in South Korea to deter potential North Korean aggression. Kim's comments were in line with an escalatory nuclear doctrine that North Korea promulgated last year, which authorizes preemptive nuclear strikes in situations where it may perceive its leadership is threatened, including in conventional conflicts.
South warnings and possible escalation
South Korea's Unification Ministry urged North Korea to stop raising tensions with "reckless nuclear and missile programs and military provocations." The ministry stressed that North Korea should focus on the welfare of its people and take the path of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea's increased testing activity and threats are aimed at claiming its dual capability to conduct nuclear strikes against South Korea and the U.S. territory. Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader's powerful sister and one of Pyongyang's top foreign policy officials, warned that her country was ready to take "swift and overwhelming action" in the face of expanded allied exercises. In previous statements, she had threatened to turn the Pacific into North Korea's firing range and had repeatedly hinted that the North could test an ICBM to these waters on a standard ballistic trajectory, which would be considered one of its most provocative weapons displays to date.
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