North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over live-fire drills where his military launched several suspected short-range ballistic missiles after his sister threatened the U.S. with consequences if it goes ahead with joint exercises with South Korea.
The so-called fire assault drill was to aimed at deterring an attack and countering any assault against the state, the official Korean Central News Agency said Friday. Kim said the exercises served a reminder that his soldiers “need to always stay alert for all sorts of more frantic war preparation moves being committed by the enemy,” it said.
North Korea launched a suspected short-range ballistic at around 6:20 p.m. Thursday from the western port city of Nampho toward the Yellow Sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an initial text message to reporters. It later added there may have been multiple short-range ballistic missiles launched.
KCNA also released photos of the exercise that showed as many as six rockets being fired at once, with Kim’s daughter watching on with her father. The missiles appear to have gone on a rare path toward waters between the Korean Peninsula and China. Almost all of North Korea’s missiles are fired toward waters off its east coast.
The latest launches add to the barrage North Korea his fired off in recent weeks, including an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland. It also sets the stage for a fresh ratcheting up of tensions as the U.S. and South Korea are preparing to hold their Freedom Shield exercises from March 13-23.
Kim’s daughter Ju Ae, thought to be about 10 years old, made her debut in state media at an ICBM launch last year and has appeared by her father’s side at several military and domestic events since then. Her presence appears to be signaling there is another generation to lead the family dynasty forged in the Cold War — one that will depend on nuclear weapons for its survival.
The U.S.-South Korean drills are expected to be some of the largest the two have held in years and are designed to bolster their defenses against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. North Korea, which for decades has decried such drills as a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war, has pledged an unprecedented response.
Earlier this week, Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the leader, said North Korea is monitoring the “restless military moves by the U.S. forces” and the South Korean “puppet military,” adding that Pyongyang is “on standby to take appropriate, quick and overwhelming action at any time according to our judgment,” KCNA said Tuesday.
Kim Yo Jong previously warned Pyongyang would turn the Pacific into a “firing range” if the U.S. continued drills. She also hinted the state could start testing whether its warhead designs can withstand the heat of reentering the atmosphere. North Korea has demonstrated that its missiles could fly as far as the U.S. mainland but there are questions as to whether the warheads would be able to stay intact.
South Korea’s spy agency on Tuesday briefed lawmakers in parliament on information that North Korea may test-launch its new solid-fueled ICBMs by next month.
The last time North Korea launched a missile into the Pacific was October 2022, when it fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, flying about 4,600 kilometers (2,860 miles), and marking the longest distance traveled by one of its missiles to date.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office in May last year, brought back joint military exercises with the U.S. The drills had been scaled down or halted under former President Donald Trump, who was hoping the move would facilitate his nuclear negotiations with the North Korean leader Kim.
Yoon is set to be in Japan next week to discuss a deal to mend ties between the neighbors. Since he took office, South Korea has also stepped up military cooperation with Japan, angering North Korea, which regards Tokyo as among its mortal enemies.
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