WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are taking seriously a string of provocative threats from the North Korean government, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday, hours after the U.S. military dispatched stealth planes capable of dropping nuclear-armed missiles for a training exercise in South Korea.
The sorties by B-2 bombers marked a rare show of force by the Pentagon on the Korean Peninsula and followed a decision this month to bolster nuclear defenses along the U.S. West Coast by adding 14 missile interceptors in Alaska.
"We have to take seriously every provocative, bellicose word and action," Hagel told reporters during a news conference Thursday at the Pentagon.
North Korea has used heated rhetoric for years, but its recent statements and actions have "ratcheted up the danger," Hagel said, adding: "We have to understand that new reality."
North Korea has condemned the military training exercise as "warmongering," and leader Kim Jong Un said today that his rocket forces are ready "to settle accounts with the U.S."
By dispatching one of the U.S. military's most expensive and specialized aircraft from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to drop inert munitions over South Korea's Jik Do Range, the Pentagon sent a signal of how quickly and severely Washington could respond to an attack by Pyongyang. B-2 bombers cost $3 billion apiece, and flying them costs about $135,000 per hour, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.
The U.S. military command in South Korea said the B-2 sorties were meant to demonstrate "the commitment of the United States and its capability to defend" South Korea and other regional allies that are wary of nuclear-armed North Korea.
Kim met early today with his senior generals, state media reported, signed a rocket preparation plan and ordered his forces on standby to strike the U.S. mainland, South Korea, Guam and Hawaii. Many analysts say they've seen no evidence that Pyongyang's missiles can hit the U.S. mainland.
Information from Associated Press was used in this report.