South Korea creates 'decapitation' unit targeting North's leadership

Katrina Barker
December 4, 2017

North Korea on Sunday blasted the United States and South Korea as "warmongers" on the eve of their largest-ever joint air exercise, saying it could trigger a nuclear war.

In Washington, meanwhile, an influential Republican lawmaker joined National Security Advisor HR McMaster in warning that time is running out on diplomatic efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

"I think it's increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem", McMaster told an audience at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley. Threats traded by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have further stoked fears of war.

With every missile launch or nuclear test, Kim has improved his country's capabilities, McMaster said.

The five-day Vigilant Ace drill - involving some 230 aircraft including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters - begins on Monday, five days after the North test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile believed capable of hitting the United States mainland in a fresh challenge to President Donald Trump.

The South Korean military established a "decapitation" brigade Friday created to eliminate North Korea's leadership in case of an emergency on the peninsula, defense ministry officials revealed. It has been set up under the South Korean army's Special Warfare Command.

"The US aircraft that have landed on South Korea include six F-22s, six F-35s, six EA-18Gs", the official said.

These aircraft will stay in South Korea for the week.

But it is the stealth fighters that experts say pose the biggest threat to Pyongyang.

North Korea has repeatedly rejected accusations of human rights abuses and blames sanctions for a dire humanitarian situation.

The initial analysis shows Tuesday's launch likely involved a two-stage missile with a non-explosive dummy warhead, the official said.

North Korea reacted angrily on Sunday to the air manoeuvres, accusing the US and South Korea of a "grave military provocation" that will "push the already acute situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war".

But it also put up bravado over the presence of the F-22s and F-35s. It launched an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, that state-controlled media described as the "most powerful ICBM" carrying a "super-large heavy warhead" to unprecedented heights of nearly 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles).

A USA official said Saturday technical analysis of that missile's flight is ongoing but the "the North Koreans had problems with re-entry".

One U.S. intelligence official told Reuters the Hwasong-15 test appears to demonstrate a more powerful North Korean solid-fuel propulsion system, especially in its second-stage rocket.

Technical analysis of the missile flight is ongoing, but the USA official said "the North Koreans had problems with re-entry".

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