North Korea put its rocket units on standby Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after repeated threats one day after two American stealth bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula in a military exercise.
A U.S. official warned that the isolated communist state is “not a paper tiger” and its reaction should not be dismissed as “pure bluster.”
Kim Jong Un has ratcheted up the rhetoric against both South Korea and the United States in recent months, and in February violated U.N. sanctions by ordering a nuclear weapons test.
On Saturday, North Korea said it had entered a "state of war" against South Korea, according to a statement reported by the North's official news agency, KCNA.
The U.S. official emphasized the danger posed by North Korea’s military and the unpredictable nature of its 30-year-old leader.
“North Korea is not a paper tiger so it wouldn't be smart to dismiss its provocative behavior as pure bluster. What's not clear right now is how much risk Kim Jong Un is willing to run to show the world and domestic elites that he's a tough guy,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “His inexperience is certain -- his wisdom is still very much in question
"It seems that Kim Jong Un is in the driving seat of a train that has been taken on a joyride," Lee Min-yong, an expert on North Korea at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, told Reuters.
Russia, meanwhile, appeared to criticize the U.S. over Thursday's bomber mission.
In an interview on CNBC Monday, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States needs to be "very concerned" by North Korea’s recent weapons test and "level of bellicosity" and do everything necessary to defend U.S. allies and interests.
Panetta said while Kim Jung Un’s actions appear aimed at his internal situation the U.S. should “take nothing for granted” and be prepared. The greatest danger right now, he said, appears to be the possibility of a miscalculation. "The reality is we don’t have as much insight as we should," Panetta said of Kim's motives.
The stealth aircraft – two F-22 Raptors -- were deployed from Japan to the Osan Air Base in South Korea from Japan where they will remain on “static display” as part of the military drills, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The F-22s are not expected to actively participate in any exercises, however.
This is the fifth time F-22s have deployed to South Korea. Exercise Foal Eagle began on March 1 and will continue until the end of April.
The F-22 jets' arrival follows other recent displays of air power by the U.S. in South Korea. Last week B-52 bombers and B-2 stealth bombers were sent to the country for the annual exercise.
In North Korea, meanwhile, KCNA reported on an Easter service at which it said "the participants renewed the firm resolution to put the warmongers [the US and South Korea] into the red hot iron-pot of hell as early as possible."