North claims to have simulated Thaad strikes

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North claims to have simulated Thaad strikes


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watches the trajectory of a missile on a monitor during a trip to the Hwasong artillery unit of the North Korean Army’s Strategic Force in a photo carried by the state-run daily Rodong Sinmun Wednesday. [RODONG SINMUN]

Three missiles fired Tuesday were simulations of attacks on air fields and ports in South Korea at which the U.S. plans to house an advanced missile shield, North Korea claimed Wednesday.

Leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the launches and state-run daily Rodong Sinmun carried eight photos on its front page Wednesday, one of which showed Kim smiling broadly. Although the paper didn’t specify when or where the photos were taken, as is custom in North Korea, the Tuesday launches were believed to have been conducted in Hwangju County, North Hwanghae Province.

On Tuesday, North Korea fired two short-range Scud missiles that flew between 500 to 600 kilometers (311 to 373 miles) before falling into the East Sea. The third launch was presumed to be a Rodong intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of flying up to 1,300 kilometers with a nuclear warhead. It disappeared from radar well short of that limit, and possibly exploded in mid-air intentionally to demonstrate that it was a simulation of an attack on a site in South Korea.

“The drill was conducted by limiting the firing range under the simulated conditions of making preemptive strikes at ports and airfields in the operational theater in South Korea where the U.S. imperialists nuclear war hardware is to be hurled,” said the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in an English dispatch Wednesday.

The U.S. does not have nuclear weapons in South Korea. The hardware in question is a U.S.-made advanced missile defense shield known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, which will be deployed in South Korea to guard against missile threats from the North.

South Korea’s military reported that the presumed Rodong missile dropped off the radar before it could be detected by Japan, which could mean it was intentionally exploded in midair. The detonation of a missile armed with a nuclear warhead in midair would cause widespread damage to objects on the ground.

North Korea admitted it was testing a nuclear strike capability with the presumed Rodong missile. KCNA reported: “And it once again examined the operational features of the detonating devices of nuclear warheads mounted on the ballistic rockets at the designated altitude over the target area.”

In one of the eight photos printed on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, Kim Jong-un sits at a desk watching a monitor showing the missiles’ trajectory, a map of the Korean Peninsula before him. The map has a curved line showing the simulated flight of the missiles, and the endpoint is in Gyeongsang, including the southeastern port city of Busan.

The presence of the map and the line raised speculation that Pyongyang was aiming at Seongju County in North Gyeongsang, where the Thaad battery is to be installed by the end of next year.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry Spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said during a regular briefing Wednesday that Seoul and Washington were closely monitoring the North’s potential provocations, adding the two allies were “thoroughly ready” to counter such acts by Pyongyang.

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