North Korea ratchets up rhetoric over joint US-South Korea drills, warns of 'ruthless' retaliation

Members of South Korean Special Weapons Attack Team (SWAT) taking part in an anti-terrorism drill during the South Korean and US military forces joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Goy
Members of South Korean Special Weapons Attack Team (SWAT) taking part in an anti-terrorism drill during the South Korean and US military forces joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Goyang, north of Seoul, South Korea, on Aug 21, 2017. EPA

SEOUL - North Korea's military on Tuesday (Aug 22) threatened that it is ready to stage ruthless retaliation against South Korea and the United States over their on-going joint military exercises that started on Monday, reported Yonhap news agency.

North Korea's military stationed at the truce village of Panmunjom said that the US has ignored its warning to make the right choice, warranting Pyongyang's merciless punishment, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

As is usual practice, the UN Command Military Armistice Commission, which oversees the agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, informed the North Korean army about the drills on Monday via its mission in the truce village of Panmunjom, according to US Forces Korea's public affairs office.

A spokesman for the North Korean military said in a statement on Tuesday: "The US should take the whole responsibility for catastrophic results from its reckless war game as it choose to make a military confrontation with us."

The latest warning came two days after Pyongyang blasted the annual military exercise as an act of "adding fuel to the fire", reported Yonhap.

 
 

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's ruling party, said in an editorial on Sunday the US moves to place the worst-ever sanctions on it and launch military provocations have made the situation on the peninsula extremely tense.

"The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting," the Rodong Sinmun report said.

"If the United States is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else's door far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever," it also said.

South Korean and US forces on Monday began military exercises through to Aug 31 that will involve computer simulations designed to prepare for a possible attack by nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise focuses on a "tailored joint deterrence strategy" based on the Operational Plan 5015 of the Combined Forces Command, officials said.

Unlike the "Foal Eagle" field training exercises held earlier this year, the allies' UFG exercise is almost entirely composed of computer simulations that take place in bunkers and tents hidden from view.

In an unusual gesture, three top US military commanders - Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris, Strategic Command head General John Hyten and Missile Defense Agency director Lt-Gen. Samuel Greaves - travelled to South Korea observe the command-post exercise in person, reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Speaking at a rare joint press conference in South Korea, they agreed that diplomacy is a priority but it's a tall order without powerful deterrence.

"We hope and we work for diplomatic solutions to the challenge presented by Kim Jong Un," Admiral Harry Harris, chief of the Hawaii-headquartered Pacific Command (PACOM), told reporters, calling the North's leader by his name.

"A strong diplomatic effort backed by a strong military effort is key." He added, "credible combat power" should be used to support diplomacy.

Yonhap said it is "quite unusual" for the US commanding generals serving abroad to gather in South Korea and release public statements together. "It apparently reflects Washington's alertness against North Korea's rapid development of nuclear bombs and missiles," said Yonhap.

The commanders inspected the UFG command-post drills scheduled to last through next Aug 31. They then headed to the new US Forces Korea's base for the THAAD missile defense system in Seongju, some 300 km southeast of Seoul.

On Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae In said at a Cabinet meeting that the joint military exercises are purely of a defensive nature and do not aim to raise tensions on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea, which view the allies' drills as a rehearsal for invasion, routinely issued warnings before and during their military exercises, but the warnings in the past few days came amid heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang following exchanges of bellicose rhetoric.

During last year’s drills, North Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine and put its military on the highest alert, reported Bloomberg.

The US should never forget that North Korea is watching its moves closely with “fingers on triggers, ready to pour a fire shower of penalties at any time", according to Tuesday's (Aug 22) KCNA report.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week held off on missile threats towards the US territory of Guam after US officials dismissed the risk of an imminent war with the North. 

He vowed to make an "important" decision if the US continues its "extremely dangerous reckless actions" on the Korean Peninsula, apparently referring to the military exercises.

Government sources told Yonhap Kim visited a military unit near the tense inter-Korean border earlier this month when he was absent from public appearances for 15 days.

It is not known what activity the North's leader made there, but South Korea's military is viewing the inspection as an unusual, undisclosed move, bracing for North Korea's possible tactical provocations, according to the sources.

Over the weekend,  North Korea's propaganda website Uriminzokkiri  uploaded on its Youtube account a four-minute video of the country's threat to stage missile strikes near the US territory of Guam, saying that time is not on Washington's side.

In the video, Kim Rak Gyom, the commander of North Korea's Strategic Force, showed a photo of the country's latest announcement on its plan for "enveloping" fire near Guam.

"Americans should live with their eyes and ears wide open. They will be tormented day and night by the Hwasong-12 rockets without knowing when they will be launched," the caption reads. "They will be in jitters."

"(We) just wish U.S. policymakers should seriously think twice ahead of an obvious outcome (of a war)," another caption says, showing a photo of U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis. "Time is not on the U.S. side."