Rival Koreas launch fighter jets as tensions continue

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

North Korea’s mobilization of fighter jets came after testing about 30 ballistic missiles in the previous two days, including an intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday that triggered evacuation warnings in Japan, in response to drills ongoing spouses by hundreds of Americans and South Koreans. military aircraft.

Later Friday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry called its military actions this week an appropriate response to the joint drills, which it described as a display of US “military confrontation hysteria”. He said North Korea would respond with the “toughest reaction” to any attempt by “hostile forces” to encroach on its sovereignty or security interests.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korean fighter jets had been detected in various inland areas and along the country’s east and west coasts, but were not are not particularly close to the Korean border. The South Korean military spotted about 180 flight tracks from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., but it was not immediately clear how many North Korean planes were involved and whether any may have flown more than once.

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

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

US and South Korean forces conducted joint “Vigilant Storm” aerial exercises involving around 240 fighter jets, including F-35s. The drills were due to end on Friday, but allies extended them to Saturday in response to North Korea’s increased testing activity this week.

The extension to the drills was announced on Thursday after North Korea tested an ICBM, which triggered evacuation alerts and temporarily halted trains in northern Japan. He followed the launch by firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea.

Pak Jong Chon, a senior North Korean military official, later issued a statement threatening retaliation for extending the drills. North Korea then fired three additional missiles into the sea and fired around 80 artillery shells into the eastern parts of maritime buffer zones created by rivals off their east and west coasts in 2018 under agreements to to reduce tension.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired more than 20 missiles, the most it has launched in a single 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 possible invasion.

After already setting an annual record with dozens of ballistic missile launches in 2022, North Korea has further stepped up testing activities since late September, including what it described as mock nuclear attacks on southern targets. -Korean and American. He said his tests were a warning against US military exercises with allies South Korea and Japan.

In response to increased North Korean weapons testing and the growing nuclear threat, the United States and South Korea this year resumed large-scale military exercises that had been scaled back or suspended years ago. to support the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with the North and due to the pandemic.

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

“The number of 240 combat aircraft (involved in the joint exercises) is also extraordinary,” Hong said. “Just for comparison, the United States fought the Gulf War of the early 1990s with most of its air power coming from two aircraft carriers that could accommodate 80 warplanes each.”

In the statement attributed to an unidentified spokesperson, North Korea’s foreign ministry said the United States and South Korea had created an “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 disarm unilaterally.

“Sustained provocation will necessarily be followed by sustained counter-action,” the statement said.

“(North Korea) makes it clear once again that it will never tolerate any attempt by hostile forces to undermine its sovereignty and security interests, but will respond to them with the harshest reaction until at the end,” he said.

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

Experts say North Korea is trying to force 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 punctuated its threats with an escalation nuclear doctrine that authorizes preemptive nuclear attacks in a variety of vaguely defined crisis situations.

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

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

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