By F. Michael Maloof
WASHINGTON – Communist North Korea is threatening a military response to South Korea’s psychological warfare broadcasts across the Demilitarized Zone as the U.S. military conducts joint exercises with its ally.
A Defense Department source who requested anonymity told WND that preparations are being made to evacuate non-combat U.S. military personnel and other citizens from South Korea. About 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are stationed in South Korea. The South Korean capital, Seoul, is less than 30 miles from the heavily fortified DMZ.
Pyongyang has given South Korea a deadline of Saturday at 5 p.m. local time (4 a.m. Eastern Time) to stop sending the messages via loudspeaker across the DMZ, warning of “surprise operations” along the border.
Tensions between the two countries on the Korean Peninsula escalated after a landmine went off Aug. 4 on the South Korean side of the DMZ, wounding two soldiers. North Korea has denied responsibility and refused South Korean demands for an apology.
In response, Seoul resumed cross-border broadcasts via loudspeaker for the first time in more than a decade. Pyongyang declared it regarded the broadcasts as a declaration of war.
South Korean officials said Thursday that North Korea fired artillery shells over the DMZ and South Korea fired back several dozen shells of its own. No casualties were reported by either side. The U.S. had suspended military exercises with South Korea this week then resumed them after North Korea fired across the border, Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear told reporters Friday.
Now, North Korea is warning that unless South Korea “stops psychological broadcasting towards the north and dismantles all means for psychological warfare within 48 hours, the KPA (Korean People’s Army) will launch a strong military action.”
The statement issued by North Korea’s state Korean Central News Agency, KCNA, said Pyonyang was prepared to fire on the loudspeakers.
“Commanders were appointed and dispatched to the relevant sectors of the front to command military actions in the areas to destroy means for psychological warfare unless the enemies stop the psychological broadcasting within 48 hours,” the KCNA report said.
Missile deployment detected
Meanwhile, North Korea is preparing to conduct short-to-medium range missile launches, a South Korean source has told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
The source said the information came from radar-detection systems operated jointly by South Korean and U.S. military forces.
In addition, South Korean media is citing intelligence reports that the North Korean army is moving artillery units toward the border.
Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia deputy project director of the International Crisis Group, told the website NKNews.org that the public nature and specificity of Pyongyang’s ultimatum puts Seoul in a difficult position.
He noted North Korean leader Kim Jung-un reportedly conducted a meeting of his Central Military Commission, the CMC, on Thursday night.
“We don’t have the minutes from last night’s CMC meeting, but the question is: Did they discuss and plan and point whereby the KPA would back down? Or do they plan to carry out the threat of punishment?” said Pinkston.
“If the former, they can back down without serious domestic audience costs, because the regime is not accountable to the public. If the latter, this sets up a commitment trap for the leadership because not carrying out the threat can be perceived as weakness internally by the coalition – especially the KPA and the internal security service,” Pinkston said.
John Grisaff, director of intelligence for NKNews.org, said in his publication’s report that actual preparations for war would include the mobilization of large armored and mechanized units of the KPA, which hasn’t been reported.
“The movement of long-range artillery, however, should still be considered a potential threat as this puts more such weapons within range of Seoul and closer to other targets in general,” he said.
Amid the growing confrontation are unconfirmed reports of demonstrations of military power by North Korea that are far more serious than artillery fire.
A Defense Department source told WND that such speculation includes that North Korea may already have shot Nodong and SCUD missiles not only at facilities south of Seoul but also over Japan, with Japanese defense forces shooting them down.
The source said Japan “is mobilizing forces now, but nobody has said anything about deployment.”
He said that the last time North Korea shot a missile, while only a test, it prompted Japan to “come very close to scrapping their constitution,” which allows them to act only in self-defense, and go on the offensive against North Korea.
South Korean sources confirm to WND that military units in North Korea have been placed in a “wartime state.”
North Korea’s Korea Central News Agency has warned that the peninsula is “inching close to the brink of war” due to what it said were “reckless provocations” by South Korea.
Norwegian film director Morten Traavik, who currently is in Pyongyang, told NKNews.org that despite what he termed “rhetoric,” there was little sign of tension in the capital.
“The mood in Pyongyang, just like I suppose it is down south in Seoul, is completely normal,” he said. “People going about their business, cicadas chirping in the trees and the occasional propaganda mobile blaring patriotic songs; but that’s daily fare here anyway.
“Of course, people are fully aware of the current situation … but the (people) I’ve talked to say that they’re ready for whatever happens.”