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US forces on 'enhanced' alert in South Korea

US forces on 'enhanced' alert in South Korea
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The Pentagon said Friday that U.S. forces in South Korea are on a heightened state of alert known as "enhanced status," amid rising tensions between that country and North Korea.

"With regard to the situation on the Korean peninsula, the United States is very concerned by the [North Korean] August 4 violation of the armistice agreement and we are monitoring the situation very closely," said Ambassador David Shear, the assistant secretary of Defense for the Asia-Pacific.

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"We are in close touch with our commanders and with our [South Korean] ally, and the United States remains steadfast in its commitments to the defense of its allies and will continue to coordinate closely with the Republic of Korea," he said.

South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea [ROK] is a U.S. ally and 28,000 American troops are stationed in the country.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have worsened after two South Korean troops were seriously wounded earlier this month by North Korean mines placed in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.

In response, South Korea began blasting propaganda on loudspeakers across the border into North Korea, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK]. North Korea responded by firing artillery into South Korea on Thursday, and South Korea fired back.

On Friday morning, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his troops to prepare for war.

The tensions come as the U.S. and South Korea are conducting annual joint military exercises known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2015.

The exercises were briefly suspended on Thursday, after the firing of artillery, but have since resumed, said Shear.

He said U.S. forces were on enhanced status due to the exercises, and not the shelling.

"U.S. forces went on an enhanced status as part of the exercise. They are remaining in an enhanced status as part of the exercise, and of course to ensure adequate deterrence on the peninsula," he said.

"The DPRK's provocative actions heightened tensions, and we call on Pyongyang to refrain from actions and rhetoric that threaten regional peace and stability, and we are at one with our ROK ally on this," he said.

Shear said the exercise was suspended briefly in order to allow the U.S. to "coordinate" with South Korea on the exchange of artillery fire across the DMZ.

"When events like this take place, we talk to the ROK about — to get that facts straight of what happened and to — to discuss what —how we are going to respond," he said.

State Department press secretary retired Rear Navy Adm. John Kirby said Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerrySeinfeld's Jason Alexander compares Trump dance video to iconic Elaine dance This time, for Democrats, Catholics matter President's job approval is surest sign Trump will lose reelection MORE is "monitoring this very, very closely."

"We're all taking this threat seriously. As we have to. When you hear rhetoric like that, you can't ignore it," he said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports."

Kirby said U.S. troops on the peninsula "are ready for action."

"They like to say that they're ready for action tonight if it's needed. And that's the kind of readiness posture that we want to preserve there on the Korean Peninsula because it's unstable because of the actions of the North," he said.

"Obviously nobody wants it to come to that," he added. "What we really want, and we've said this before, is for the North to stop destabilizing the situation and stop committing acts and, frankly, ascribing to rhetoric that's doing nothing to lower and decrease tensions."