North Korea has been conducting rare mass evacuation and black out drills throughout the country in preparation for war, it emerged this weekend.
Multiple sources told NK News that the drills have taken place in secondary and tertiary cities and towns, particularly along the east coast, but not in the capital city, Pyongyang.
The revelation comes during a time of heightening tensions between the hermit state and the US after a series of nuclear and missile tests, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking mainland America.
The threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday during a trip to the South Korean capital, Seoul, to meet his counterpart, Defence Minister Song Young-moo.
“North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbours and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and weapons programmes,” he said, adding that US-South Korean military and diplomatic collaboration had taken on “a new urgency.”
Mr Mattis warned that the US would never accept a nuclear north and that dictator Kim Jong-un was overmatched by American firepower.
Experts are divided about whether the unusual North Korean drills are a sign that the regime feels more threatened than before, or wants to create the perception that it is taking care of its citizens.
“I have never heard of this type of training exercises before in North Korea, but am not surprised,” Chun In-bum, a recently retired South Korean three star lieutenant general told NK News. “They must realise how serious the situation is.”
But Christopher Green, a PhD candidate at University of Leiden, Germany, argued that it was unclear “whether genuine security concerns are driving this, or the wish to portray the image of a government that has concerns over security.”
Defectors have spoken of frequent air raid drills during times of tension but not in recent years.
In 1994, during a confrontation with Washington over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, daily air raid drills reportedly took place.
In 2013, when relations with South Korea were tense, the North Koreans also fostered a sense of crisis by requesting Pyongyang vehicles to cover their roofs with camouflage netting.
Some analysts argue that fiery statements from US President Donald Trump may have created genuine fear.
At the UN General Assembly in September, Mr Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked. The US military has also ramped up military deployments near the Korean peninsula.