(LEAD) N. Korea holds nuclear counterattack simulation drills; Kim urges perfect readiness: KCNA
(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details, background; MODIFIES headline; ADDS photo, byline)
By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, March 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Monday it conducted drills simulating a tactical nuclear counterattack against its enemies over the weekend, as the United States and South Korea are staging their joint annual military exercise.
The North's leader Kim Jong-un "guided" the training held Saturday and Sunday, including a ballistic missile launch drill designed to verify the operation of nuclear explosion control devices and detonators, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Photos carried by state media showed his daughter Ju-ae also oversaw the drills.
He "stressed the need to let service personnel get familiar with any unexpected circumstances and make them more perfectly prepared in their active posture of making an immediate and overwhelming nuclear counterattack anytime," the KCNA said in an English-language report.
Kim also presented the "important nuclear force-building orientation and the strategic tasks to be fulfilled in preparing the nuclear force for a war," it added without elaborating.
The allies are staging the Freedom Shield military exercises scheduled to run through Thursday, aimed at bolstering their defense posture against the North's evolving nuclear and missile threats.
The North said its two-day practice to counter the South Korea-U.S. "war" drills for invasion consisted of three parts -- an exercise for managing the nuclear strike control system, an actual training for switching to a nuclear counterattack posture and a training for launching a tactical ballistic missile tipped with a mock nuclear warhead.
On Saturday, the country reviewed the reliability of the operation system for the command and management of its tactical nuclear force "in a multi-faceted way."
On Sunday morning, the North test-fired a tactical ballistic missile in order to check the operational reliability of its nuclear explosion control devices and nuclear warhead detonators, according to the KCNA.
It said the missile, fired from Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, precisely "exploded at 800 meters above the target waters" of the East Sea.
South Korea's military said Sunday it detected the firing of a short-range ballistic missile from the Tongchang-ri area in the North's western part toward the East Sea at 11:05 a.m.. It said the missile traveled 800 km before splashing into the sea.
The North's missile firing came some 25 minutes before a U.S. B-1B strategic bomber entered an operational area of the Korean Peninsula for the allies' exercises.
The North has stepped up its provocations in response to the South Korea-U.S. military drills, including the firing of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and what it claims to be two "strategic cruise missiles" from a submarine.
Pyongyang has decried such exercises by the allies as a rehearsal for an invasion against it and threatened to take "overwhelming" action against military activities by the allies.
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