North Korea puts rocket units on 'highest alert,' issues new threats against US

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NBC News

North Korea stepped up its aggressive rhetoric on Tuesday, ordering its rocket and long-range artillery units to be combat ready and on the “highest alert” and issuing new threats against U.S. bases on Hawaii, Guam and mainland America.

Pyongyang warned that U.S. facilities would be "reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed," according to a military order issued by the pariah state’s military "supreme command."

It comes in response to joint military drills by U.S. and South Korean forces which began in the area early this month and which have seen U.S. bombers flying sorties threatening the North.

South Korea's defense ministry said it saw no sign of imminent military action by North Korea Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The announcement marked a further increase in military rhetoric from Pyongyang, and followed a threat last week that it would attack U.S. bases in the Pacific if its “enemies … make even the slightest movement.”

It came as South Korea marked the third anniversary of the sinking of one its navy vessels, blamed on North Korea, which left 46 sailors dead.

Pyongyang previously threatened nuclear attack on the United States and South Korea, although it is not believed to have the capability to hit the continental United States with an atomic weapon. However, Reuters reported that U.S. military bases in the Pacific area are in range of its medium-range missiles.

The military statement, also posted on the KCNA website, said: “From this moment the… supreme command will put on the highest alert all the field artillery units including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units which 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 zone in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in south Korea and its vicinity.”

Voice of America’s Northeast Asia bureau chief, Steve Herman, quoted South Korean radio station MND saying Tuesday’s announcement is the first time North Korea has referred to "Il-ho" – its highest level combat readiness posture.

North Korea has said it has abrogated an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and threatened a nuclear attack on the United States.

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