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NK holds military drills simulating occupation of S. Korea
Tit-for-tat exercises indicate NK's "intention to pursue war" and "preemptively use nuclear weapons": expertsBy Ji Da-gyum
Published : Aug. 31, 2023 - 15:08
North Korea has publicly launched military exercises that involve simulating the occupation of the entirety of South Korean territory through armed attacks in case of contingencies in the presence of the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, its state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday.
The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army on Tuesday commenced a command post exercise, or CPX, involving its entire army. The CPX aims to evaluate and examine the operational planning, organizational proficiency and command capabilities of commanders and staff members across a range of combined units.
The CPX was in response to a "situation where the United States and gangsters of the 'Republic of Korea' military have staged highly provocative and extremely dangerous large-scale combined exercises that simulate an all-out war with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," North Korean state media said, referring to South and North Korea by their official names, respectively.
North Korea's announcement was released on the final day of Ulchi Freedom Shield, an 11-day computer-simulated CPX conducted by South Korea and the US. The regular, defense-focused exercises aim to strengthen the combined defense posture and alliance response capabilities of South Korea and the US in the face of increasing missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.
This marks the first time North Korea has disclosed such a CPX that involves the entire military and Kim's visit to a command post of the KPA General Staff through state media, at least since the third-generation leader assumed power in December 2011, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
Kim was briefed by the newly appointed chief of the KPA General Staff, Gen. Ri Yong-gil, on the expected actions of hostile forces and the corresponding planned reactions of North Korean forces, according to the situation by time and stage, in the event of a war.
"Comrade Kim Jong-un acquainted himself with the plan developed by the exercise's staff section, outlining the overarching goal of occupying the entire territory of the southern half by repelling the enemy's sudden armed invasion and switching into an all-out counterattack," a Korean-language dispatch read.
Additionally, Kim conducted a thorough review of a "combat document outlining the operational plan" for staff members within large combined units, as well as other units at every level. The document serves to execute a strategy aimed at occupying the entire territory of South Korea.
Kim also examined "documents outlining the operational plans of the General Staff," encompassing strategies such as "utilizing front-line and strategic reserve artillery forces, establishing a front behind enemy lines, thwarting the interference of foreign armed forces in case of contingencies."
The KCNA also published a photo showing Kim pointing to an area on a blurred out operational map, which appears to be near the city of Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province. This area is where the headquarters of the South Korean Army, Navy and Air Force are located.
North Korean state media reported separately Thursday that the country conducted a "tactical nuclear strike drill, simulating scorched-earth strikes on major command centers and operational airfields" of the South Korean military on Wednesday night.
The nighttime live-fire exercise was in response to the combined aerial drills conducted by South Korea and the US earlier in the day. The US deployed B-1B Lancer bomber aircraft for the air exercise, which also involved the South Korean Air Force's FA-50 fighter jets and the US Air Force's F-16 fighter jets over the Yellow Sea, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.
State media said the KPA's tactical nuclear-armed unit in the western region launched "two tactical ballistic missiles northeastward from Pyongyang International Airport and successfully executed its nuclear strike mission, achieving air bursts at a predetermined altitude of 400 meters above the target island."
This indicated that North Korea carried out a simulated nuclear strike mission by detonating two KN-24 short-range ballistic missiles -- which are similar to the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, in appearance -- in midair.
Park Won-gon, a professor in the Department of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University, highlighted that North Korea has "publicly announced an exceedingly aggressive strategy toward South Korea."
"Kim Jong-un's revelation of the 'overarching goal to occupy the entire territory in the southern half' constitutes a reaffirmation of the country's intention to pursue a war with the aim of achieving unification under communism," Park said.
Park also took note of the significance of Kim emphasizing the necessity of executing "simultaneous and highly intense strikes capable of targeting key military objectives, such as military command centers, naval bases, operational airfields, as well as crucial elements that could incite social, political and economic upheaval."
Kim indicated that such a strategy is essential to "inflict a serious blow on the enemy's war potential and the focal points of war command centers during the initial phases of the operation" in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula.
Park said that Kim's directive is interpreted as a "reiteration of the country's willingness, following the April statement of Kim Yo-jong (Kim's sister and the vice department director of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee) to preemptively use nuclear weapons against South Korea at the onset of war.”
Echoing the view, Ryu Seong-yeop, an intelligence analyst at the Korea Research Institute for Military Affairs, also pointed out the implications of North Korea's disclosure of firing short-range ballistic missiles for tactical nuclear operation in a statement issued under the name of the KPA General Staff along with the country's wartime operational plan.
"Through this simultaneous revelation, North Korea's plan for an all-out invasion of South Korea is substantiated. The plan is to employ tactical nuclear weapons and special forces to support the infiltration of ground forces armed with conventional weaponry," Ryu said.
Ryu pointed out that Kim would make an assessment and review the execution capability of various military units to invade South Korea by employing tactical nuclear weapons, which are generally designed for use on the battlefield in a specific tactical or localized military situation.
Jung Dae-jin, a professor of global business at Halla University in Wonju, Gangwon Province, pointed out that North Korea's command post exercises reflect its adherence to the tit-for-tat strategy it has consistently followed.
Kim Jong-un's visit to the command post can be interpreted as a reaction to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's recent presence at the Command Post Theater Air Naval Ground Operations, referred to as CP Tango, during the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises.
"North Korea's announcement of conducting counterattack exercises also showcases its proportional and reciprocal response, wherein defensive actions are followed by counteroffensive measures," Jung said.
UFS consists of two sessions. The first phase generally practices repelling North Korean attacks and defending South Korea. The second part seeks to practice counteroffensive operations.
However, South Korea's Unification Ministry on Thursday urged North Korea not to exploit regular military exercises conducted by the allies.
"We strongly condemn Chairman Kim Jong-un for overtly showing his intention to launch a military attack against us by using annual, defense-oriented combined exercises between South Korea and the US as a pretext."
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