North Korea has said it will expand and intensify military drills to ensure its armed forces are prepared for any war, according to state media.
The decision came at a meeting of the central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party on Monday that was chaired by leader Kim Jong Un.
Top of the agenda was “the issue of constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills of the [Korean People’s Army] … strictly perfecting the preparedness for war,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) said on Tuesday.
The commission’s meeting took place with North Korea widely expected to stage a military parade on Wednesday to mark the founding anniversary of its armed forces and showcase the latest hardware from its growing nuclear weapons and missile programme.
Commercial satellite imagery has shown North Korean troops practising in formation in Pyongyang.
Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing that the South Korean military had detected a “significant increase in personnel and vehicles” in areas related to parade rehearsals but declined to share a specific assessment on when the event would take place.
A large group of men are watching Kim Jong Un speak at a special stage with a double row of super-large rocket launchers lined up on the road behind them. There are trees in the background and high-rise buildings in the distance.
North Korea could showcase its new military hardware at a parade expected to take place as early as Wednesday [File: KCNA via Reuters]
He added that the South Korean military was closely monitoring developments related to North Korea’s possible creation of a new military bureau related to missiles but did not provide further details. Some analysts say that the new department could possibly handle the development of nuclear warheads and ballistic systems.
North Korea celebrates the 75th anniversary of the founding of its armed forces on February 8 and the Day of the Shining Star on February 16. The latter is the birthday of Kim Jong Il, the son of founder Kim Il Sung and father of Kim Jong Un.
Pyongyang’s promise to expand its military drills follows its condemnation last week of military exercises by the United States and South Korea. It has long criticised such activities as rehearsals for invasion but last week said the drills had crossed an “extreme red-line” that threatened to turn the peninsula into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone”.
Seoul and Washington have stepped up joint military drills amid a year of North Korean weapons tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
The most recent aerial drills, which took place on February 1, involved B-1B bombers from the US as well as F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.
South Korea said the joint exercises were designed to demonstrate the credibility of the US’s “extended deterrence”, referring to a commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea.
Seoul, in recent months, has sought stronger assurances that the US will swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to protect its ally in the face of any North Korean nuclear attack.
More than 28,500 US troops are based in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
“North Korea is hinting about the possibility of military action in the future in the name of operational and combat training and war preparedness,” said Hong Min, a director at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterattacks.
Kim has also said his country must “overwhelmingly beef up military muscle” in 2023 in response to what Pyongyang calls US and South Korean hostility.