North Korea said Tuesday that it had put its rocket and long-range artillery units on “highest alert,” ready to strike South Korea and U.S. military bases in Hawaii and Guam.
The Pentagon said it takes the threat “very seriously.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime has issued a torrent of threats since the U.N. Security Council imposed tough sanctions this month in response to North Korea’s Feb. 12 nuclear test, and as U.S. and South Korean forces carry out joint military exercises in the region.
“From this moment the supreme command will put on the highest alert all the field artillery units, including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units which are assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zone in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea and its vicinity,” North Korea’s military said in a statement reported by the state’s official Korean Central News Agency.
U.S. facilities will be “reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed,” it warned.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the U.S. is “concerned by any threat raised by the North Koreans.”
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Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, said: “North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric and threats follow a pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others.
“[North Korea] will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” Mr. Ventrell said. “The U.S. is fully capable of defending itself and our allies against a [North Korean] attack.”
In response to previous threats from North Korea, the Defense Department is increasing the number of missile interceptors in Alaska and deploying a second early warning system in Japan, among other measures.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it was monitoring the threat from Pyongyang, but that it had not seen any military activity that would indicate the North is preparing an attack.
Analysts say the North does not have the ability to strike the U.S. mainland.
“North Korea has a formidable arsenal, with the world’s fourth-largest army, probably the third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons, possibly biological weapons, and an array of ballistic missiles with which it can project power far from its shores,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “But those missiles cannot reach the continental United States, and the intermediate-range missiles that might be able to reach Alaska have not been tested.”
North Korea can, however, strike targets in its neighborhood, including U.S. troops in South Korea and U.S. bases in Japan. There are 28,500 U.S. troops deployed in South Korea.North Korea’s next attack may take place not on the ground but in cyberspace, analysts say. Last week, South Korean media companies and banks were hit by cyberattacks suspected to have been the work of North Korea.
“We have been told by South Korean officials that the North Korean military has ramped up a massive program for cyberwarfare,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security. “South Korea and Japan have already been hit; the U.S. could be next.”