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N. Korea says recent missile tests were 'tactical nuclear' drills to 'wipe out' targets

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
North Korea's recent missile tests involved "tactical nuclear" drills to simulate hitting the South, and were overseen by leader Kim Jong-un. (Photo by AFP)

North Korea's recent missile tests demonstrated its ability to conduct strikes with "tactical nuclear weapons", the country's leader Kim Jong-un has said, adding that his forces were ready to "hit and wipe out targets at any time from any location”.

Kim was quoted as saying by North Korea's state media on Monday that the drills were “an obvious warning and clear demonstration” to the country’s enemies.

North Korean army units involved in the operation of tactical nukes staged military drills from September 25 to October 9 "to check and assess the war deterrent and nuclear counterattack capability," the country’s official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

“Through seven times of launching drills of the tactical nuclear operation units, the actual war capabilities … of the nuclear combat forces ready to hit and wipe out targets at any location and any time were displayed to the full," the agency said.

It also made clear that the nuclear tests came in reaction to recent joint war games involving US, South Korean and Japanese troops that included the deployment of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier, enraging Pyongyang, which regards such drills as rehearsals for invading the country.

In response, North Korea "decided to organize military drills under the simulation of an actual war" that gamed out hitting South Korea's ports, airports and military command facilities, KCNA stated.

“The effectiveness and practical combat capability of our nuclear combat force were fully demonstrated as it stands completely ready to hit and destroy targets at any time from any location,” the news agency quoted Kim as saying.

“Even though the enemy continues to talk about dialogue and negotiations, we do not have anything to talk about nor do we feel the need to do so.”

The report further said that Pyongyang's October 4 missile launch, which flew over Japan and prompted rare evacuation warnings, involved a "new-type ground-to-ground intermediate-range ballistic missile."

The test, it noted, aimed to "send a more powerful and clear warning to the enemies."

Kim "guided the military drills on the spot," the report added, emphasizing that he dismissed the idea of restarting talks and that North Korea "felt no necessity to do so."

Kim made acquiring tactical nukes -- smaller, lighter weapons designed for battlefield use -- a top priority at a key party congress in January 2021, and this year vowed to develop North Korea's nuclear forces at the fastest speed.

Pyongyang revised its nuclear laws last month, outlining a wide array of scenarios in which it could test-launch its nuclear weapons, with Kim declaring North Korea an "irreversible" nuclear power -- effectively ending the possibility of negotiations over its arsenal.

North Korea also released multiple photographs of the recent missile launches, tests and exercises demonstrating Kim’s presence on site while overseeing them all, giving orders and posing with smiling soldiers.

In addition to the array of "tactical nuclear" drills, North Korea further stated that it had carried out "a large-scale combined air-attack drill," which was also overseen by Kim.

KCNA said this involved "more than 150 fighter planes" though Western analysts dismissed the announcement as domestic propaganda, with rival South Korea insisting last week that it had only detected 12 North Korean warplanes flying in formation.

The analysts expressed suspicion about the extent of KCNA's statements about its recent tests, saying they point to Pyongyang’s serious concerns about the recent US-led joint military maneuvers in the area.

"The KCNA report may also be a harbinger of a forthcoming nuclear test for the kind of tactical warhead that would arm the units Kim visited in the field," they added.

Officials in Washington and Seoul, meanwhile, have been warning for months that North Korea has completed preparations for another nuclear test -- which would be the country's seventh, and first since 2017.

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