North Korea’s front-line military troops were ordered to prepare for war following an exchange of fire with South Korea, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
While presiding over an emergency meeting of the North’s Central Military Commission late Thursday, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, issued an order that the army’s “front-line large combined units” should “enter a wartime state to be fully battle ready to launch surprise operations,” North Korea’s KCNA reported, according to CNN.
The leader also ordered that “the area along the front be put in a semi-war state,” added the report. The measures are expected to take effect beginning Friday at 5 p.m. local time.
CNN notes that Kim’s orders “employing bellicose language typical of North Korea, adds to the edgy situation in the region.”
According to the South Korean Defense Ministry, the two countries exchanged artillery fire over their heavily fortified border on Thursday afternoon.
North Korea is accused of launching two shells, while South Korea is believed to have fired dozens of shells in response, the Ministry said.
No casualties have been reported.
David Shear, the U.S. assistant secretary for defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters on Friday that the U.S. had suspended, then resumed joint military exercises with South Korea this week after North Korea fired its weapons across the Demilitarized Zone.
“The news of the pause, which happened Thursday, according to Shear, came as stern warnings flew back and forth across the border on the day before a North-imposed deadline for the South to shut off propaganda broadcasts or face war,” notes CNN.
A KCNA report that surfaced Friday accused South Korea of igniting a “military provocation.”
“It’s hardly the first time North Korea has used such alarming language,” CNN acknowledges. “During a period of heightened tensions in the region in 2013, North Korea announced it had entered ‘a state of war’ with South Korea. That situation didn’t result in military clashes.”
It is unlikely that the current situation will escalate further, Jamie Metzl, an Asia expert for the Atlantic Council in New York, told CNN.
“North Korea has more to gain from conflict theater than from a conflict that would quickly expose its fundamental weakness,” he said.
An estimated 28,000 American troops are based in South Korea, a key U.S. ally that remains on high alert after the exchange of artillery fire.
Cmdr. William Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, reportedly said that U.S. military is keeping a close eye on the situation.
“Tensions spiked on the Korean Peninsula after two South Korean soldiers were seriously wounded by landmines on August 4 in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries,” reports CNN. “South Korea has accused the North of deliberately planting the mines, an allegation that Pyongyang denies.”