North Korea orders front-line troops into ‘wartime state’ after exchange of fire

Updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu August 20, 2015
Caption:INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 04: South Korean unification minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae (R) shakes hands with Hwang Pyong-So (L) vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission on October 4, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. The North Korean delegation, including Hwang Pyong-So, who is thought to be the country's No.2 after Kim Jong-Un, made a surprise visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Caption:INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 04: South Korean unification minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae (R) shakes hands with Hwang Pyong-So (L) vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission on October 4, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. The North Korean delegation, including Hwang Pyong-So, who is thought to be the country's No.2 after Kim Jong-Un, made a surprise visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:02
North and South Korea exchange fire at border
PHOTO: Nicolas Asfouri/Pool/Getty Images/AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS
Now playing
01:27
North, South Korean leaders to meet again
PHOTO: Airbus Defense and Space
Now playing
01:44
New images show N. Korea dismantling test site
PHOTO: CNNI
Now playing
00:40
Pompeo dismisses N. Korea's 'gangster' comments
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Handout/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Kim Jong Un snubbed Mike Pompeo, source says
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
Bolton: US has plan for denuclearizing N. Korea
PHOTO: Planet Labs Inc.
Now playing
01:25
Satellite images show missile plant construction
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:14
Susan Rice: Kim Jong Un beat Trump at summit
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
PHOTO: From Rodong Sinmun
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
Now playing
02:14
Will North Korea restart nuclear tests?
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
Will Kim Jong Un ever give up his nukes?
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
02:27
What's bringing Kim Jong Un to the table
Now playing
01:51
Who is Kim Jong Un?
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:43
Connolly: Trump comment on Kim 'jaw-dropping'
Now playing
02:31
Moon: The masterful dealmaker
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
PHOTO: CNN
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
Now playing
01:26
Trump: Kim Jong Un very open and honorable
Now playing
03:06
Finding art on the edge of the DMZ

Story highlights

Kim Jong Un presided over an emergency military meeting late Thursday, state media say

"North Korea has more to gain from conflict theater than from a conflict," an analyst says

North Korea has threatened to blow up South Korean propaganda loudspeakers at the border

(CNN) —  

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered front-line military units to enter “a wartime state” after an exchange of fire with South Korea, his country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.

The announcement, employing bellicose language typical of North Korea, adds to the edgy situation in the region.

The two sides traded artillery fire over their heavily fortified border on Thursday afternoon, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

Two shells came from the North Korean side, the ministry said, and South Korea fired dozens of shells in response.

No casualties were reported from the exchange of fire.

North Korea hasn’t given a detailed account of events, but the KCNA report Friday accused South Korea of committing a “military provocation.”

Kim presided over an emergency meeting of the North’s Central Military Commission late Thursday, issuing an order that the army’s “front-line large combined units” should “enter a wartime state to be fully battle ready to launch surprise operations,” KCNA said.

He also ordered that “the area along the front be put in a semi-war state,” according to the report. The measures are to take effect from 5 p.m. Friday local time.

Theatrical conflict?

It’s hardly the first time North Korea has used such alarming language.

During a period of heightened tensions in the region in 2013, North Korea announced it had entered “a state of war” with South Korea. That situation didn’t result in military clashes.

Jamie Metzl, an Asia expert for the Atlantic Council in New York, said he thought it was unlikely that the current crisis would escalate further.

“North Korea has more to gain from conflict theater than from a conflict that would quickly expose its fundamental weakness,” he said.

South Korea, a key U.S. ally where roughly 28,000 American troops are based, said it’s on high alert after the exchange of fire.

The Pentagon is also monitoring the situation closely, said Cmdr. William Urban, a Defense Department spokesman.

Tensions spiked on the Korean Peninsula after two South Korean soldiers were seriously wounded by landmines on August 4 in the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries.

South Korea has accused the North of deliberately planting the mines, an allegation that Pyongyang denies.

North Korean threats over loudspeakers

Seoul vowed a “harsh” response to the landmines and resumed blaring propaganda messages over the border from huge loudspeakers last week.

The move infuriated North Korea, which called the broadcasting “a direct action of declaring a war.” Over the weekend, it threatened to blow up the South Korean speakers and also warned of “indiscriminate strikes.”

A U.S. official told CNN that the United States believes that North Korea fired at a South Korean loudspeaker on Thursday.

South Korea said that North Korea sent a written message around 5 p.m. Thursday local time threatening military action if Seoul doesn’t stop the propaganda broadcasts within 48 hours and remove the loudspeakers.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official warned Friday that Seoul would retaliate strongly to any additional North Korean provocations.

On Monday, North Korea pumped its own propaganda broadcasts over the border, the same day South Korea started military exercises with the United States and other countries. Pyongyang says it views the drills as a prelude to an invasion.

The North Korean government asked this week that the exercises, which it described as “serious provocations” be placed on the U.N. Security Council’s agenda. Pyongyang has made similar requests before without success.

A history of clashes

While the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula are unsettling, they’re not without precedent.

In November 2010, North Korea shelled an island near the countries’ disputed maritime border, killing two South Korean marines.

The two sides also traded fire in October 2014. A clash took place between patrol boats in the Yellow Sea, and then another flared days later over land after North Korean gunners apparently targeted balloons carrying leaflets critical of the country’s reclusive regime.

Over the past six decades, skirmishes have flared repeatedly along land and sea borders as each state aims to reunify the peninsula according to its own terms and system of government. Deadly naval clashes occurred along the demarcation line in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, Korea became a divided nation – the capitalist South supported by the United States and its Western allies, and the communist North an ally of the Soviet Union.

Cold War tensions erupted into war in 1950, devastating the peninsula and taking the lives of as many as 2 million people. The fighting ended in 1953 with a truce, not a treaty, and settled little.

Technically, the two Koreas are still at war.

Besides the border skirmishes, other incidents have proved provocative. In 1968, North Korea dispatched commandos in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate South Korea’s President. In 1983, a bombing linked to Pyongyang killed 17 high-level South Korean officials on a visit to Myanmar. In 1987, the North was accused of bombing a South Korean airliner.

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Brian Todd, Greg Botelho, Kathy Novak and Don Melvin, and journalist Jungeun Kim contributed to this report.