(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details, U.S. military's response; RECASTS headline, lead; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired an apparent ballistic missile Wednesday, but the launch appears to have ended in a failure, South Korea's military said.
The North shot the projectile from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at around 9:30 a.m., according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). It did not elaborate further, only saying an additional analysis is needed.
The missile appears to have exploded in midair at an altitude of below 20 kilometers, informed sources said later.
Military authorities are putting weight to the possibility the latest launch involved the same intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that the North tested on Feb. 27 and March 5.
Last week, Seoul and Washington criticized the past two launches as new ICBM system tests ahead of a full-range launch, dismissing the North's claim that they were meant to develop a "reconnaissance satellite."
"At this point, our assessment is that the projectile launch appears to have been botched as it failed to reach a certain altitude in its early boost phase," a JCS official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command condemned the latest launch and called on the North to refrain from further "destabilizing" actions.
"The United States will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the U.S. homeland and our allies," the command said in a press release. "The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan remains ironclad." ROK stands for South Korea's official name, Republic of Korea.
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