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North Korea approves new frontline army duties amid tensions

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un doubled down on his nuclear arms buildup to overwhelm “hostile forces” at a key meeting where military leaders approved unspecified new operational duties for frontline army units.

Members of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission decided to supplement an “important military action plan” on the duties of frontline troops and further strengthen the country’s nuclear war deterrent, state media said yesterday.

North Korea hasn’t specified the new operational duties for frontline army units, but analysts said the country could be planning to deploy battlefield nuclear weapons targetting rival South Korea along their tense border.

While North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that could reach the United States (US) mainland gets much of the international attention, it is also developing a variety of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles that can target South Korea.

Experts said its rhetoric around those missiles communicates a threat to proactively use them in warfare to blunt the stronger conventional forces of South Korea and the US.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in the South to deter aggression from the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. PHOTO: AP

Kim during the military commission’s three-day meeting that ended on Thursday called for his entire army to “go all out” in carrying out the plans to bolster the nation’s military muscle and consolidate “powerful self-defence capabilities for overwhelming any hostile forces and thus reliably protect the dignity of the great country”.

The commission’s members discussed ways to strengthen the party’s leadership over the entire armed forces and ratified plans for unspecified changes in “military organisational formations”, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

Some analysts said North Korea’s possible plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to frontline artillery units may require command-and-control changes as the country’s nuclear-capable weapons have so far been handled by the army’s strategic force.

The meeting came amid signs that North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test explosion since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear weapon that could be tipped on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.