North Korea vows ‘merciless’ response to US-South Korean war games

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits surrounded by officials in this undated photo from the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 2, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea promised a “merciless” response to U.S.-South Korean war games, warning it won’t hesitate to use its “treasured nuclear sword of justice.”

The state-run Korean Central News Agency issued the statement Thursday, a day after Seoul and Washington launched annual Foal Eagle joint military exercises.

“Lots of U.S. war operation groups and nuclear strike means deployed in South Korea and in its vicinity have already begun moving to the positions for invasion of the north,” KCNA said, quoting a statement by an unnamed spokesman for the general staff of the Korean People’s Army.

“Should the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces fire even a single shell into the waters where the sovereignty of our Re-public is exercised, the KPA will immediately launch its merciless military counter-actions,” it added.

“The KPA will mercilessly foil the nuclear war racket of the aggressors with its treasured nuclear sword of justice,” it said.

The response was expected as Pyongyang considers the drills a rehears-al for an invasion, despite U.S. and South Korean insistence that they are defensive in nature.

But the characteristic hyperbole and belligerent tone has taken on added significance after two nuclear tests last year and a series of missile launches raised concern that the North is making faster-than-expected progress in its nuclear-weapons program.

Most recently, North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Feb. 12. Also, leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother was assassinated with VX nerve agent on Feb. 13, which South Korea has said was the work of North Korean agents, although the com-munist state denied involvement.

South Korean military officials reiterated the drills are meant as routine defensive measures but said they were ready to respond to any actions by the North.

“If North Korea commits provocations, we’ll be protecting our people’s lives and property by punishing them without any hesitation,” a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a media briefing.

Foal Eagle is a field-training exercise involving about 10,000 ground, air, naval and special-operations forces, including 3,500 servicemem-bers who are being brought to the peninsula, U.S. Forces Korea said.

A separate, computer-simulated command post exercise known as Key Re-solve also is due to begin in mid-March.

The two Koreas are divided by the world’s most heavily fortified bor-der as they remain technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. There are about 28,500 U.S. servicemembers stationed in South Korea, with others frequently brought on temporary training assignments.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

Twitter: @kimgamel

The guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale steam in formation with the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula during Foal Eagle 2016.

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