North Korea Threatens ‘Absolute Force’ as U.S., South Hold Military Drills
North Korea threatened to turn the U.S. into “huge heaps of ashes” and warned that military exercises involving American and South Korean forces this week had worsened the standoff, which could only be resolved by “absolute force.”
In a strongly worded commentary issued through its state media on Tuesday, Pyongyang attacked President Donald Trump, branding his approach to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula “unimaginably reckless.”
The remarks came a day after the U.S. and South Korean militaries began annual drills, which the allies say are aimed at defending South Korea in the event of conflict but which Pyongyang says are rehearsals for an invasion.
North Korea is upset in particular about what it calls drills aimed at decapitating the leadership in Pyongyang—a direct attempt to kill dictator Kim Jong Un. It also says the drills can be quickly repurposed into an invasion of the North.
“No one can vouch that these huge forces concentrated in South Korea will not go over to an actual war action now that the military tensions have reached an extreme pitch,” North Korea said in a separate statement Tuesday attributed to its military forces stationed on the inter-Korean demilitarized zone.
The comments followed a week in which tensions between Washington and Pyongyang appeared to ease somewhat, after North Korea backed away from an immediate threat to fire missiles toward Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory.
Mr. Trump had warned North Korea earlier this month that the U.S. was ready to unleash “fire and fury” on the regime and that military options were “locked and loaded.”
“Mad guy Trump’s unrestrained war-inciting tongue-lashing might turn the U.S. mainland into huge heaps of ashes,” North Korea said Tuesday through its main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, in remarks carried by its state mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency. “Trump has not yet come to his senses.”
Through its July tests of two intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea had shown it could turn “the whole U.S. mainland into a sea of flames,” the statement added.
It is routine for Pyongyang to respond angrily to the U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian. A week after last year’s drills ended, the regime carried out its fifth nuclear test.
In another report on Tuesday, the North accused the U.S. of “kicking up the hysteria of military confrontation,” which it described as an act “little short of putting a noose around its own neck.”
In a sign of the heightened stakes around this year’s exercises, the commanders of U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Pacific Command and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency are in South Korea to oversee the proceedings.
Gen. Vincent Brooks, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea, said in a news conference at the U.S. Air Force base at Osan, on Tuesday that the drills were conducted to send a clear message of deterrence.
“That may cause some noise from North Korea—that’s what we routinely expect—but it doesn’t stop us in our resolve,” Gen. Brooks said, calling on Mr. Kim, the North Korean dictator, to make wise decisions about any countermeasures during the 10-day exercises.
Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris added that the military options being prepared were only intended to help the U.S. in its efforts to rein in North Korea through sanctions and diplomacy.
“The diplomatic lever is stronger, more effective, more powerful if it’s backed by credible military power,” Adm. Harris said. “Our diplomats...should take the front line.”
Separately on Tuesday, a congressional delegation to the region made up of three U.S. Senators and two House representatives urged Mr. Trump to rule out unilateral military action against North Korea.
“We must acknowledge that a preventive war would not solve this problem and it would make matters much, much worse,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) during a press briefing in Seoul.
Mr. Markey, who was joined by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), and Reps. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) and Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.), urged the Trump administration to seek immediate negotiations with Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and missile program.
The delegation, which met Monday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, also called for China and Russia to cut off oil and gas exports to North Korea.
The call for talks came as Pyongyang unleashed its latest tirade against Mr. Trump on Tuesday, lashing the U.S. president for having “spouted again a load of rubbish” that it warned “doesn’t consider the safety of Americans.”
It added that its military was ready “to thoroughly neutralize and wipe out all troops and means to be involved in invasion through pre-emptive actions.”
North Korea warned that the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, which it said were conducted despite repeated warnings, was pushing the situation into a “deeper quagmire.” “Only absolute force can contain the reckless military maneuvers of the Yankees,” it said.
In response, Adm. Harris said the U.S. was prepared to defend against any North Korean launches with its missile-defense systems, including the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery recently installed in South Korea.
“I have complete confidence in the capability of the weapons systems that we’ve developed to defend our own homeland and that of Korea,” Adm. Harris said, noting that 15 of the last 15 Thaad missile-interception tests had succeeded. “I’m not a mathematician, but that’s almost like 100%.”
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