North Korea intensified its recent deployment of weapons tests by launching four ballistic missiles into the sea, while the United States sent two supersonic bombers to fly over South Korea, in a show of military might that highlighted the growing tensions in the region.
(El Financiero).- According to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the four short-range missiles were fired from an area off the North Korean west coast around noon and traveled about 130 kilometers (80 miles) to land in waters to the west of the country.
The North Korean military has launched more than 30 sea missiles this week, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that on Thursday triggered evacuation warnings in northern Japan, and conducted warplane flights inside its territory in an angry reaction to joint air maneuvers between the United States and its southern neighbor.
According to the South Korean military, two B-1B bombers trained alongside four U.S. F-16 fighter jets and four South Korean F-35s on the final day of the joint military exercises, dubbed “Watchful Storm,” which end Saturday. It is the first time since December 2017 that bombers have been deployed on the peninsula. The maneuvers involved around 240 aircraft, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries.
For its part, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said Friday night that its actions were an appropriate response to the drills, which it called a display of U.S. “military confrontational hysteria.” It said Pyongyang would respond with the “harshest reaction” to any attempt by “hostile forces” to violate its sovereignty or security interests.
According to the South Korean General Staff, the participation of B-1Bs in the maneuvers indicates the allies’ readiness to offer a “firm response” to North Korean provocations and Washington’s commitment to defend its ally with all its military capabilities, including nuclear.
B-1B flights have been a regular show of force in previous periods of tension with the North. The aircraft last took to the skies over the region in 2017, during another phase of intense weapons testing, but in recent years were halted to support the former President Donald Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The allies resumed large-scale maneuvers this year after the North conducted weapons tests at a record pace, taking advantage of a split in the U.N. Security Council over Russia’s war in Ukraine to accelerate their development.
Pyongyang detests such displays of U.S. military might so close to its border. The North describes the B-1B as a “strategic nuclear bomber,” although the aircraft has only carried traditional weaponry since the mid-1990s.
The Watchstorm maneuvers were scheduled to end on Friday, but after North Korean launches on Thursday, the allies decided to extend them until Saturday.