North Korea is once again threatening nuclear strikes as the United States and South Korea kick off annual military exercises this week. While North Korea has tested small nuclear devices and long-range missiles, it is unclear whether it has an existing nuclear arsenal or the technology to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike.
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The Pentagon called North Korea's latest threats “unhelpful” and stressed that the annual exercises are defensive in nature.
North Korea today threatened to carry out a "preemptive nuclear strike of justice" on the United States and South Korea at the start of the annual military exercises known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. North Korea says the exercises are rehearsals for a planned invasion by U.S. and South Korean forces.
This year's exercises are being billed as the largest ever with 10,000 U.S. military forces participating in the exercises that will end next month. About 8,000 of the U.S. forces, including a three-ship Amphibious Group with 2,200 Marines, have arrived from off the Korean Peninsula. The United States has a permanent presence of 28,000 troops based in South Korea.
North Korea's National Defense Commission said in a statement, “If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment.”
In response, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said, "We continue to ask them [North Koreans] to refrain from provocative actions and statements that only serves to aggravate tensions. We closely monitor the situation there.”
"The important thing to remember is that these exercises are purely defensive purely," Davis added. "This is not an offensive operation."
He explained to reporters today that the exercises are designed to help U.S. and South Korean forces maintain their readiness for operations in defense of South Korea.
"Any statements that imply hostile offensive action by North Korea are not only unhelpful but contrary to facts of what we’re doing,” Davis said.
Key Resolve is a command-post exercise, while Foal Eagle are field exercises involving U.S. and South Korean ground, air and naval forces.