North Korea on Tuesday put into “combat-ready posture” its missile and artillery units that are capable of striking South Korea, the U.S. and other “hostile targets,” its state media said.
“The Supreme Command is putting all of its field artillery including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units into the No. 1 combat-ready posture,” the top command said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
The statement enumerated specific targets such as the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam and other U.S. bases in the Pacific region, not to mention South Korea.
“No. 1 combat-ready posture” has never before been mentioned in the North’s media reports. Seoul officials said the posture appeared to mean the highest level of combat readiness, noting that no unusual North Korean military movements were detected yet.
“Compared to the South Korean military, the highest combat readiness means you put live ammo in your equipment and put yourself in full gear, and put soldiers in their positions,” a military source said, declining to be named.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said that it was keeping closer tabs on North Korean movements, stressing that any provocations would be met with strong retaliation.
Referring to the B-25 strategic bomber the U.S. had flown over the peninsula during recent maneuvering drills, the command’s statement said it would show off its military’s and people’s resolve to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty and highest dignity “through actual military action.”
“Our ‘crystal clear judgment’ is that we cannot overlook the intimidating reality any longer as the U.S. nuclear threats and blackmailing spread into real action,” the statement said.
The statement came a day after Pyongyang staged a national military exercise on its east coast apparently in a show of force against the South Korean and U.S. combined forces that have recently signed a joint counter-provocation plan.
Seoul’s Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin has said that South Korea would launch a counterstrike, if provoked, not only at the origin of the provocation, but also forces supporting it and its commanders.
This counter-provocation guideline by Kim was said to have been reflected in the allies’ new contingency plan signed last Friday.
Jeung Young-tae, senior research fellow at Korea Institute for National Unification, said that through the highest readiness posture, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to bring his people together and strengthen his military leadership.
“Kim moves around the military installations while showing off his post of the top military commander. Through such activities, he also seeks to instill an image of a strong leader into his people,” he said.
“Should the tension lead to an opening of talks with the U.S., Kim might be seen as having made the U.S. surrender and could cast himself as a successful military leader.”
Jeung, however, said Seoul should prepare for possible provocations.
“Amid this military readiness, (Kim) might think that there is a need to show something in realistic terms. There could be missile launches or an artillery attack or other such kinds of limited, low-intensity provocations,” he said.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org