North Korea once again dared the world Saturday morning when it fired three short-range ballistic missiles in defiance of the United Nations sanctions.
According to the South Korean military, the missiles were launched from a site in the North Korean province of Gangwon and flew for about 250km (150 miles).
Since firing an intercontinental ballistic weapon last month, Pyongyang has threatened to aim missiles at the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
The US military said the incident is capable of reviving tensions with Washington after President Donald Trump had said Pyongyang was starting to show some “respect”.
The launches come as tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops take part in joint military drills in the south of the peninsula, which the North views as highly provocative.
Following an initial US assessment saying that two of the missiles had “failed in flight”, a spokesman for the US Pacific Command later said the two weapons had not failed but “flew approximately 250 kilometres (155 miles) in a northeastern direction”.
One of the three missiles blew up “almost immediately”, with none of the weapons posing a threat to either North America or the US territory of Guam, the spokesman said.
Lee Il-Woo, an analyst at Korea Defence Network, said the launches represented a “low-level provocative act” carried out in response to the US-South Korea exercises, which are seen by Pyongyang as a rehearsal for an invasion of its own territory.
The joint exercises started Monday at a time of heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, after two successful intercontinental ballistic missile launches carried out by North Korea last month apparently brought most of the United States into range for the first time.
The projectiles were first launched at 06:49 on Saturday (21:49 GMT Friday), South Korea’s Defence Ministry said. The U.S. military said three missiles were fired.
“The first and third missiles failed in flight. The second missile launch appears to have blown up almost immediately,” said Commander Dave Benham of the U.S. Pacific Command. The launches were spread over a period of 30 minutes, he added.
“The military is keeping a tight surveillance over the North to cope with further provocations,” the South Korean Defence Ministry said.
Thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops are currently taking part in joint military drills, which are mainly largely computer-simulated exercises.
Analyst Yang Uk at the South Korea Defence and Security Forum said the latest launches by Pyongyang were “carefully calibrated… to avoid revving up tensions too high beyond its control”.
Shells were said to hit islands standing in for South Korea’s Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands while special forces landed in rubber boats or parachuted in and “wiped out the desperate enemy with various combat methods”, the Korean Central News Agency said.
The North bombarded Yeonpyeong island in November 2010 in response to a South Korean live-fire drill near the tense sea border, killing four South Koreans — two soldiers and two civilians — and prompting Seoul to return the fire.