North Korea flies warplanes near South Korea after missile launch

Seoul, South Korea — North Korea flew 12 fighter jets near its border with South Korea on Thursday, prompting the South to send 30 military jets in response, Seoul officials said. The highly unusual incident came hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea in its sixth round of missile tests in less than two weeks.

Eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers flew in formation and reportedly carried out air-to-ground gunnery drills, the South Korean military said.

The military said South Korea responded by jamming 30 fighter jets and other combat aircraft, although they did not engage in any confrontation with the North Korean aircraft. He declined to provide further details, including how far from the border the North Korean planes flew.

Tensions have risen sharply on the Korean peninsula as North Korea’s recent barrage of missile tests prompted South Korea, the United States and Japan conduct joint exercises in response.

Earlier Thursday, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters. The launches came after the United States redeployed an aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korea launching a nuclear-capable missile over Japan.

North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests this year. South Korean officials have said the North could raise tensions further by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile or carrying out its first nuclear test since 2017, following an old pattern of heightening tensions before trying to wrest outside concessions .

Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue testing weapons to bolster his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. They say North Korea’s goal is to eventually gain recognition of the United States as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of sanctions, although the United States and its allies have shown no sign to do so.

The latest missiles were launched at 22-minute intervals from North Korea’s capital area and landed between the Korean peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The first missile traveled 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles) and the second traveled 800 kilometers (497 miles) with an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles).

Details of the flight were similar to Japanese assessments announced by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, who confirmed that the missiles did not reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

He added that the second missile may have been launched on an “irregular” trajectory. It is a term that has been used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon inspired by the Russian Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of attack. evade missile defenses.

US, South Korean and Japanese destroyers launched joint drills off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on Thursday to harness their abilities to search, track and intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, the heads of state said. South Korean Joint Major.

The US destroyer is part of the strike group led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which returned to the waters in what the South Korean military called an attempt to demonstrate the “strong will” of the allies to counter ongoing provocations and threats from the North. .

The strike group was in the area last week as part of previous exercises between South Korea and the United States, and other allied training involving Japan. North Korea sees these US-led drills near the peninsula as a rehearsal for an invasion and views the training involving a US aircraft carrier as more provocative.

South Korea’s military said it had also strengthened its surveillance posture and remained ready in close coordination with the United States. The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches posed no immediate threat to the United States or its allies, but still stressed the “destabilizing impact” of the US nuclear and ballistic missile programs. North Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone on Thursday and agreed that North Korea’s recent missile tests are “a serious and serious provocation” that threatens international peace, according to Yoon’s office. Kishida said earlier that continued launches from the North were “absolutely intolerable”.

Moon Hong Sik, spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry, said North Korea’s ramping up of testing also reflected the urgency of meeting Kim Jong Un’s weapons development goals.

Last year, Kim outlined a long wish list of advanced nuclear weapons systems, including more powerful ICBMs, multiple warhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and tactical nuclear weapons.

On Tuesday, North Korea staged its most provocative weapons display since 2017, firing an intermediate-range missile over Japan, forcing the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and halt trains.

Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam in the Pacific and beyond.

Other weapons tested in recent days included Iskander-type missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the redeployment of the Reagan strike group posed “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and its surroundings”. The ministry said it strongly condemned US-led efforts in the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions against the North over its recent missile tests, which it described as a “just counter -action” to joint US-South Korean exercises.

Following the North’s launch of intermediate-range missiles, the United States and South Korea have also conducted their own live-fire exercises which have so far involved surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and precision-guided bombs. dropped by fighter planes.

But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly spell disaster early Wednesday when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile flipped over shortly after takeoff and crashed into the ground at an air base from the eastern coastal city of Gangneung. The South Korean military said no one was injured.

After Tuesday’s North Korean launch, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. But Wednesday’s session ended without a consensus, underscoring a rift between the council’s permanent members that has grown over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

During the meeting, Russia and China insisted to other members of the Security Council that US-led military exercises in the region had prompted North Korea to act.

The United States and its allies have expressed concern that the council’s failure to reach consensus on North Korea’s record number of missile launches this year is emboldening North Korea and undermining authority. of the most powerful organ of the United Nations.

North Korea has fired more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles in more than 20 launch events this year, using stalled diplomacy with the United States and Russia’s war on Ukraine as a window to accelerate the development of armaments.


Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.


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