PYONGYANG (Sputnik) – The Korean People’s Army has conducted an artillery fire competition, “inspecting and evaluating” mechanized troops’ performance “in order to increase their mobile artillery combat capabilities,” the Korean Central News Agency reported on Sunday.
The drills, held on Saturday, were said to have been carried out “at a time when enthusiasm to undergo intensive training prevails throughout the [Army] fr ushering in a new heyday in strengthening the state defense capabilities under the banner of self-defense.”
The exercises were said to have been presided over by senior Politburo official Pak Jon Chon, and General Rim Kwang Il, Army chief of staff, as well as other commanders.
Unit commanders were said to have been provided with decision-making autonomy to carry out their tasks, and to have personally commanded individual artillery units to destroy targets. “As soon as the firing orders were given by the commanders of the combined units, guns competitively shelled the target to accurately hit and annihilate the enemy,” KCNA reported.
Much of North Korea’s artillery is deployed near the border with South Korea and aimed at cities and military facilities. Pyongyang hopes such a deployment will prevent a U.S.-led invasion of the country. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, before it obtained nuclear weapons, North Korea used its artillery as the centerpiece of its deterrent force.
Since September, North Korea has test-launched a series of newly developed missiles, including nuclear-capable weapons.
The country is under harsh UN sanctions for its missile and nuclear activities.
On Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that despite Pyongyang’s repeated objections to Seoul and Washington, the U.S. and South Korean military forces began a five-day joint air defense exercise that involved some 200 aircraft.
North Korea regards the South’s joint exercises with American forces as a rehearsal for invasion and insists that the North’s efforts are defensive in nature.
Pyongyang says countries criticizing the North for its defensive military drills apply “double standards.”
With dialogue at a standstill, U.S. officials have expressed a willingness to meet with their North Korean counterparts in order to resume denuclearization talks.
Pyongyang, however, has dismissed the U.S. offer of dialog as a “petty trick,” accusing Washington of pursuing a hostile policy toward North Korea.