North Korea has threatened its own pre-emptive strikes in response to recent drills for "decapitation" strikes by U.S. and South Korean special operations forces aimed at taking out the leadership in Pyongyang.
The simulated strikes reportedly targeted the upper echelons of the North Korean regime, including leader Kim Jong Un, as well as key nuclear sites.
They also involved the participation of the U.S. Navy's SEAL Team 6 — the outfit famed for killing al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the Asahi Shimbun reported earlier this month. Media reports said a number of U.S. special operations forces also participated, including U.S. Army Rangers, Delta Force and Green Berets.
North Korea recently launched satellite-carrying Unha rockets, which is the same delivery system as North Korea's Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which was tested successfully in December 2012 and January 2016. (Photo: Reuters/KNCA)
In a statement released March 26 by the Korean People's Army (KPA), a spokesman said the "madcap joint military drills" would be met with the North's "own style of special operation and pre-emptive attack," which it said could come "without prior warning any time."
The statement, published by the official Korean Central News Agency, said the U.S. and South Korea "should think twice about the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by their outrageous military actions.
"The KPA's warning is not hot air," the statement added.
In mid-March, several U.S. Marine F-35B stealth fighter jets conducted bombing practice runs over the Korean Peninsula as a part of the joint exercises, the South's Yonhap news agency reported Saturday.
The dispatch of the fighters, based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, was the first time they had been sent to the Korean Peninsula. The fighters returned to Japan after the drills wrapped up.
Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile over the last year and a half, conducting two atomic explosions and more than 25 missile launches — including an apparent simulated nuclear strike on the U.S. base at Iwakuni.
In the event of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. troops and equipment from Iwakuni would likely be among the first deployed.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is in the midst of a policy review on North Korea, and has said all options, including military action, remain on the table.
But this review could be bumped up Trump's list of priorities in the near future.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources, as well as recent satellite imagery, has shown that the North is apparently ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test at any time, media reports have said.