North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Puts Rocket Forces on ‘Standby to Fire’ at U.S. Targets

By Patrick Goodenough | March 29, 2013 | 5:25 AM EDT

The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. Two of the aircraft flew from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to South Korea on March 29. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bobbie Garcia)

( – North Korean media reported early Friday that Kim Jong-un had ordered strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike U.S. and South Korean targets, Seoul’s Yonhap state news agency reported.

Hours later, Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean military official as saying increased activity had been detected at missile sites in the North, and that the South was watching closely for the possibility of launches.

The latest warning from Pyongyang came shortly after the U.S. military, in an unprecedented announcement, confirmed that two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers had taken part in the annual Foal Eagle joint military drills with South Korea.

Yonhap quoted the North’s official KCNA news agency as saying Kim called the decision to fly the B-2s over South Korea a provocation “going beyond the phase of threat and blackmail.”

KCNA said the leader had convened “an urgent operation meeting” shortly after midnight.

“He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in south Korea,” the report said.

(Pyongyang does not recognize South Korean sovereignty, and so calls that part of the divided peninsula “south Korea.”)

Yonhap commented that it was unusual for the North to call an emergency meeting of senior commanders in the middle of the night.

The Associated Press reported that thousands of soldiers and students rallied in a square in Pyongyang later on Friday chanting, “Death to the U.S. imperialists” and “Sweep away the U.S. aggressors.”

According to the U.S. Forces Korea the B-2s flew to the peninsula from their base in Missouri, a distance of more than 6,500 miles, dropped inert munitions on a South Korean bombing range, and then returned to the continental U.S. “in a single, continuous mission.”

It said the mission demonstrated the commitment and capability of the U.S. to defend its South Korean ally, and its “ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will.”

The deployment of the nuclear-capable bombers came after weeks of belligerent threats by the North, angered by the Foal Eagle exercise and the imposition of new U.N. sanctions imposed in response to its latest nuclear weapons test.

The KCNA report said Kim viewed the B-2 mission not as a simple display of force but as an ultimatum showing the U.S. would ignite a nuclear war at any cost.

It said Kim declared that his forces would “react to the U.S. nuclear blackmail with merciless nuclear attack, and [its] war of aggression with an all-out war of justice.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday rejected the notion that the B-2 mission was “poking back or responding” to provocation from the Stalinist regime.

“We, over the years, have been engaged with South Korea on joint exercises,” he told a press briefing at the Pentagon. “The B-2 flight was part of that.”

Hagel also said, however, that “the North Koreans have to understand that what they’re doing is very dangerous.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, also taking part in the briefing, said the U.S. military was most concerned not with any reaction the B-2s may elicit in North Korea, but about the message sent to South Korea and Japan.

“Those exercises are mostly to assure our allies that they can count on us to be prepared and to help them deter conflict,” he said.

Friday was not the first time in recent days North Korea has specifically threatened American military bases in the Pacific. Last week its military warned that its “precision” weapons had U.S. bases in Japan and Guam within range.

On that occasion, it cited the participation in this year’s Foal Eagle exercises of a Guam-based B-52 bomber.

In recent weeks North Korea has also threatened to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S. and announced – not for the first time – that it was withdrawing from its 60 year-old armistice with South Korea.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow