The rival Koreas are launching warplanes in an extension of tensions

The rival Koreas are launching warplanes in an extension of tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea shot down about 80 military aircraft, including F-35 advanced fighter jets, on Friday after following about 180 flights by North Korean warplanes inside North Korean territory in what appeared to be a defiant show of force. .

North Korea has mobilized warplanes after test-firing about 30 ballistic missiles in the past two days, including intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday that triggered evacuation warnings in Japan, in angry response to ongoing joint exercises by hundreds of US and South Korean military aircraft.

Later on Friday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called its military actions this week an appropriate response to the joint drills, which it described as a display of US “hysteria of military confrontation”. It said North Korea would respond with the “strongest countermeasures” to any attempts by “hostile forces” to violate its sovereignty or security interests.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korean warplanes were detected in various areas inland and along the country’s east and west coasts, but did not come particularly close to the Korean border. The South Korean military spotted about 180 flight tracks from 1 to 5 p.m., but it was not immediately clear how many North Korean planes were involved and whether some may have made multiple flights.

None of the planes breached the South Korean military’s virtual “tactical action” line, which is 20 to 50 kilometers (12 to 30 miles) north of Korea’s land and sea borders and is used for surveillance purposes to give South Korea enough time to respond to provocations or attacks.

South Korea has still fielded about 80 of its own warplanes, including an unspecified number of F-35 fighters. There were no immediate reports of clashes.

U.S. and South Korean forces are conducting the “Vigilant Storm” joint air exercise involving about 240 warplanes, including the F-35. The exercises were scheduled to end on Friday, but the allies extended them until Saturday in response to North Korea’s intensification of testing this week.

The extension of the drills was announced on Thursday after North Korea test-fired an ICBM, prompting evacuation warnings and temporarily halting trains in northern Japan. It followed the launch by firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea.

Pak Jong Chon, a senior North Korean military official, then issued a statement threatening retaliation for extending the drills. North Korea then fired three additional missiles into the sea and fired about 80 artillery rounds into the eastern parts of the maritime buffer zones the rivals created off their east and west coasts in 2018 as part of a deal to reduce tensions.

North Korea fired more than 20 missiles on Wednesday, the most he has launched in one day. The launches came after Pak issued a veiled threat of nuclear conflict with the United States and South Korea over their joint exercises, which the North says are rehearsals for a potential invasion.

Having already set an annual record with dozens of ballistic missile launches in 2022, North Korea has further stepped up its testing activities since late September, including what it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets. It says its tests are intended as a warning to the United States’ military exercises with allies South Korea and Japan.

In response to North Korea’s increased weapons tests and growing nuclear threat, the U.S. and South Korea this year resumed large-scale military exercises that had been scaled back or suspended in previous years to support the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with the North and due to pandemics.

North Korea particularly despises Vigilant Storm, which includes U.S. F-35B stealth fighter jets that can be heavily armed for ground strike missions, said Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification. He said the North Korean missile and artillery barrage this week could indicate a sense of alarm.

“The sheer number of 240 warplanes (involved in joint exercises) is also remarkable,” Hong said. “By comparison, the United States fought the Gulf War in the early 1990s, and the bulk of its air power came from two aircraft carriers that could each accommodate 80 warplanes.”

In a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesman, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the United States and South Korea had created a seriously “unstable atmosphere” in the region with their military exercises. He accused the United States of mobilizing its allies in a campaign using sanctions and military threats to pressure North Korea to unilaterally disarm.

“A continuous provocation will necessarily be followed by a continuous counteraction,” the announcement states.

(North Korea) once again clarifies that it will never tolerate any attempt by hostile forces to violate its sovereignty and security interests, but will respond with the fiercest counteraction to the last.

North Korea has launched dozens of ballistic missiles this year, including multiple ICBMs and an intermediate-range missile that flew over Japan. South Korean officials say there are indications North Korea could detonate its first nuclear test device since 2017 in the coming weeks.

Experts say North Korea is trying to get the United States to accept it as a nuclear power and is seeking to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength. North Korea has underscored its threats with an escalating nuclear doctrine that authorizes pre-emptive nuclear strikes in a series of loosely defined crisis situations.

After a meeting Thursday at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup released a joint statement saying they “strongly condemn” North Korea’s recent weapons display.

Both defense chiefs stressed that any use of nuclear weapons, including low-yield tactical nuclear devices, against Seoul or other regional allies such as Japan would “result in the end of the Kim Jong Un regime with an overwhelming and decisive response from the alliance,” Lee said at a joint conference. for the press with Austin.

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