The United States has put its forces in South Korea on a heightened state of alert known as “enhanced status” as war between Seoul and Pyongyang looms.
On Friday, North Korea warned its southern neighbor to halt the “provocations” and its propaganda broadcasts against Pyongyang by Saturday afternoon or pay the price.
“If South Korea does not respond to our ultimatum,” North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador, An Myong-hun, told reporters in New York, “our military counteraction will be inevitable and that counteraction will be very strong.”
Despite the high tensions, the United States resumed joint war games, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2015, with South Korea on Friday following a brief suspension on Thursday.
The drills simulate a full-scale invasion by North Korea. Pyongyang has denounced the joint drill as provocative.
“With regard to the situation on the Korean peninsula, the United States is very concerned by the [North Korean] August 4 violation of the armistice agreement and we are monitoring the situation very closely,” said David Shear, the assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.
“We are in close touch with our commanders and with our [South Korean] ally, and the United States remains steadfast in its commitments to the defense of its allies and will continue to coordinate closely with the Republic of Korea,” he said.
The United States has more than 28,000 troops deployed in South Korea, which has remained technically at war with its neighbor since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Tensions have increased between the Asian countries after two South Korean soldiers were critically wounded earlier this month by North Korean mines allegedly placed in the demilitarized zone between the two states.
In response, South Korea started propaganda broadcasts across the border. On Thursday, North Korea retaliated by firing artillery into the South, and South Korea fired back.
On Friday morning, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put his frontline troops on combat readiness and ordered them to prepare for a possible war.
“Our military and people are prepared to risk an all-out war not just to simply respond or retaliate, but to defend the system our people chose,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on Saturday morning on the official KCNA news agency.
“The situation has reached the verge of war and can no longer be reversed,” the statement added.
Shear, the American military official, said US forces were put on enhanced status because of the ongoing maneuver.
“US forces went on an enhanced status as part of the exercise. They are remaining in an enhanced status as part of the exercise, and of course to ensure adequate deterrence on the peninsula,” he said.
Shear claimed North Korea’s “provocative actions heightened tensions” and called on “Pyongyang to refrain from actions and rhetoric that threaten regional peace and stability.”
The South Korean Defense Ministry has rejected the North’s ultimatum, with a spokesman insisting the country would “continue operating the loudspeakers.” The South also placed its military on high alert.
In an exclusive interview with Press TV on Friday, American political activist and radio host Don DeBar said that the potential for a war between the two Koreas “is going to hinge on how seriously North Korea… feels threatened by ‘the exercises,’” referring to the massive military drills that tens of thousands of Korean and American troops recently launched.
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