North Korea says missile launches help train for war

STORY: As the U.S. and South Korea stage their biggest joint military exercise in years, North Korea has fired several short range missiles into the sea off its east coast in response.

The country's state news agency KCNA said on Wednesday (March 15) the launches were part of a military drill to train its troops to carry out their mission at any time and quote: "annihilate the enemy" if necessary.

Last week, leader Kim Jong Un ordered the military to expand combat drills and prepare for war.

Tuesday's missile launches coincided with the 11-day joint drills between South Korean and American forces, dubbed "Freedom Shield 23".

North Korea condemns the joint drills as a rehearsal for invasion and proof of hostile policies from Seoul and Washington.

About 400 soldiers, 50 military equipment and two Apache helicopters were mobilised for the operation on Monday.

U.S. Captain Sean Kasprisin:

“We’ve learnt a lot from each other, and been able to demonstrate our ability to work together as one team. We look forward to continuing to train together and building the relationship between the U.S. and Korean forces. We will remain ready to fight tonight. Let’s go together.”

South Korea is also seeking closer ties with Japan to combat the threat from Pyongyang despite decades of friction and mistrust between the two U.S. allies.

On Wednesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol said cooperation with Tokyo was vital, as he prepares to visit Tokyo - the first visit by a South Korean leader in 12 years.

The planned trip comes after South Korea announced last week its companies would compensate victims of forced labour under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-1945.

The dispute has undermined U.S.-led efforts to present a unified front against China and North Korea.