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​North Korea threatened to turn the South into a “heap of ashes through a Korean-style pre-emptive nuclear strike” if US and Republic of Korea forces showed “the slightest sign of aggression” during their annual military drill, reported NPR, citing a state-run North Korean media outlet. The warning comes as US and ROK forces kicked off the annual military exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which US Forces Korea officials maintain is a “non-provocative” training exercise designed to improve readiness and maintain stability on the peninsula. North Korea has been ramping up its nuclear and ballistic missile testing over the last year and US Forces Korea officials told Air Force Magazine during a recent visit to the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea, they would not be surprised if the North conducted another nuclear test “in the near future.” North Korean officials claimed to have detonated the country’s first thermonuclear weapon in January, though USFK officials said they don’t believe that to be the case. “It was either a failed attempt or it was only intended to be a boosting device or something of that nature. We don’t think they actually achieved what they’ve planned,” the official told Air Force Magazine. “At the same time they’ve shown slow but steady progress in increasing the yields of what they’ve tested so far. Similar with their missile program, it’s not always strong performers but there has been incremental progress.”