SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's military warned Tuesday that its artillery and rocket forces are at their highest-level combat posture in the latest in a string of bellicose threats aimed at South Korea and the United States.
The announcement came as South Koreans marked the third anniversary of the sinking of a warship in which 46 South Korean sailors died. Seoul says the ship was hit by a North Korean torpedo; the North denies involvement.
Seoul's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that it hasn't seen any suspicious North Korean military activity and that officials are analyzing the warning. Analysts say a direct North Korean attack is extremely unlikely, especially during joint U.S.-South Korean military drills that end April 30, though there's some worry about a provocation afterward.
North Korea, angry over the drills and recent U.N. sanctions punishing it for its Feb. 12 nuclear test, said Tuesday it will take "practical military action" to protect national sovereignty and its leadership in response to what it called U.S. and South Korean plots to attack.
The statement by the North Korean army's Supreme Command said the country's field artillery forces include strategic rocket and long-range artillery units that are "assigned to strike bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor troops in the U.S. mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zones in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea." The statement said the forces will be placed on "the highest alert from this moment."
Pentagon press secretary George Little said the threat would only further isolate the North. "North Korea's bellicose rhetoric and threats follow a well-worn pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others," he said.
The North's recent threats are seen partly as efforts to strengthen internal loyalty to young leader Kim Jong Un and to build up his military credentials.