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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
North Korea on Tuesday threatened to attack the U.S. mainland and South Korea if Seoul shows any sign of carrying out a “beheading operation” targeting Kim Jong Un.
The threat, which comes ahead of the annual U.S.-South Korea military drills, follows skyrocketing tensions in the wake of Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and recent satellite launch.
“Our strike against the U.S. will be a ‘mind-shattering’ retaliation that the world has never imagined before, and we will make sure to turn the den of evil to ash plumes so that it never revives again on the face of the planet,” a Korean-language statement published Tuesday on the Korean Central News Agency said.
The North Korean statement, which was attributed to the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army, took particular issue with a year-old South Korean military proposal to assassinate Kim Jong Un if Pyongyang were to ever show signs of preparing to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
“The diabolical ‘beheading operation’ and the South Korean attempt to collapse our system is the most extreme level of hostility against us,” the statement said, saying the “military and people hallow our leader more than all of our lives.”
The Supreme Command warned it would strike the South Korean Special Forces and their equipment with the entirety of the DPRK’s strategic and tactical weapons if signs of the proposed operation emerged.
In response, the South Korean military said on Wednesday that it had “pre-planned and prepared (a) firm retaliation,” should a North Korean attack take place.
“Pyongyang must be aware that they will be responsible for all of the results of their ruthless provocations, which will only quicken the collapse of the North Korean dictatorship,” said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday morning.
On the same day, both the Blue House and Ministry of Unification urged North Korea to stop the “provocations” that would “only lead to self-destruction.”
But while the KCNA Watch Threat Index data has shown an upswing in North Korea’s threat posture in recent weeks – at least from a media perspective – one observer told NK News that risks of conflict remained low.
“There is always a slight risk of miscalculation by either side, but no more than usual,” said Andray Abrahamian, a North Korea specialist at Australia’s Macquarie University.
“For 60-plus years they’ve been avoiding going to war,” he said. “Everyone is pretty good at it.”
However, the United States Forces Korea (USFK) commander still warned of an increasing North Korean threat on Tuesday.
“North Korea continues to conduct provocations and to resource its large conventional force,” USFK Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said during a Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“And of greater significance,” he said, “North Korea continues to aggressively develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, in direct violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Featured image: DPRK Today