North Korea High Alert: Is Nuclear Attack On US Imminent?

By Philip Ross on March 26, 2013 1:35 PM EDT

north Korea
North Korea's artillery sub-units, whose mission is to strike Daeyeonpyeong island and Baengnyeong island of South Korea, conduct a live shell firing drill in the western sector of the front line. An attack on South Korea would force the US to go to war with Pyongyang. (Photo: Reuters)

North Korea says its artillery is on high alert and is prepared to strike the U.S. with a nuclear attack. While North Korean officials have used pugnacious rhetoric before, this provocation is most disturbing, given the escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea and the fact that North Korean military leaders portended a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S earlier this month.

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The Voice of America reports that earlier today, the army's top leaders announced over the official North Korean news agency and state radio in Pyongyang that its field artillery units are in "combat-duty posture No. 1".  They said they will target U.S. "enemy objects" on the mainland, Hawaii and Guam. This is the first time North Korea has used the term "combat duty pasture No. 1" in regards to its artillery, fueling fears that North Korea is getting closer to attacking either the U.S. or South Korea.

From the statement broadcasted from Pyongyang:   

Now is the time to shower a fire of revenge on the enemies that dared draft even the "list of targets" to hurt the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership.

We servicepersons are awaiting an order from the Supreme Command to start the attack with our precision nuclear strike means.

Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un, while inspecting our unit some days ago, called on us to demonstrate the true fighting spirit of the People's Army and its will to wipe out the enemy by striking the heart of the enemy before any others, if we greet a great revolutionary event for national reunification.

The announcement comes after the U.S. began military exercises in South Korea this month and signed a military pact with South Korea last Friday, agreeing to a joint response against Pyongyang should North Korea carry out an attack on the South. Additionally, the U.N. earlier this month tightened sanctions against the regime, a move which North Korea met with threats of aggression and a declaration to nullify all agreements of denuclearization, the New York Times reported.

Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshare Fund, said during an interview with Martha Raddatz on ABC: "This is how wars start. Threats become maneuvers, become exchanges, are met with retaliation; and pretty soon you have Word War I or Vietnam."

USA Today reports that North Korea cited the recent B-52 flights as a reason for today's aggressive declaration. Many experts view North Korea's recent string of threats as efforts by the regime to strengthen internal loyalties and are not literal. And while the country is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack (experts still believe North Korea is years away from possessing the technology to do so), it could conduct an attack on neighboring South Korea, dragging the U.S. into war along with it.

Reuters tweeted earlier today: "U.S. Department of Defense condemns North Korea's 'bellicose' rhetoric, says the U.S. is ready to 'respond to any contingency'"

Should North Korea attack the U.S., America has satellites in space and on the ground that can shoot dozens of missiles to intercept any incoming projectiles. But, the system is far from foolproof.

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