Seoul: North Korea threatened pre-emptive and 'indiscriminate' nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States on Monday, as the two allies kicked off their annual, large-scale military exercises.
The drills always raise tensions on the divided Korean peninsula and the situation is particularly volatile this year, given the North's recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch and its fury over tough UN sanctions imposed in response.
Participation in the joint exercises — known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — has been bumped up this year to involve 300,000 South Korean and around 17,000 US troops, as well as strategic US naval vessels and air force assets.
In a statement issued hours before the drills began, North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission said it was prepared for an 'all-out' military counter-offensive.
Describing the exercises as 'nuclear war drills' aimed at undermining North Korea's sovereignty, the statement said the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army was ready to launch a 'pre-emptive and offensive nuclear strike' in response.
The threat came just days after leader Kim Jong-Un ordered the country's nuclear arsenal to be placed on standby, in response to the sanctions resolution adopted last week by the UN Security Council.