SEOUL: US heavy bombers and stealth jet fighters took part in a joint live fire drill in South Korea on Thursday, intended as a show of force against the North after its latest missile launch. “South Korean and US air forces conducted an air interdiction exercise in order to strongly cope with North Korea’s repeated firing of ballistic missiles and development of nuclear weapons,” the South’s air force said in a statement.
Two B-1B “Lancer” bombers from Guam and four F-35B stealth jet fighters from the Marine Corps’ Iwakuni airbase in Japan conducted the drill, with four South Korean jet fighters also taking part.
B-1B overflights of the peninsula from Guam, a US territory in the Pacific, infuriate the North, which cited them when it announced a plan to fire a salvo of missiles towards the island. It was one of the moves that saw tensions spiral this month, along with a new set of UN Security Council sanctions, US President Donald Trump’s apocalyptic warning to rain “fire and fury” on Pyongyang, and culminating with the North firing a missile over Japan on Tuesday.
A frustrated Trump took to Twitter to condemn Pyongyang, saying “the US has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!”
With tensions surging, Moscow urged Washington not to use force against North Korea and also said attempts to toughen sanctions would be counterproductive.
In a phone call late on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “underscored… the need to refrain from any military steps that could have unpredictable consequences,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said.
China on Thursday also condemned “destructive” calls for further sanctions, warning Japan, the US and Britain that diplomacy was needed to avert a crisis.
On a visit to Japan on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said London and Tokyo would work together to pressure North Korea “including by increasing the pace of sanctions” against Pyongyang”.
The UN Security Council has already imposed seven sets of sanctions on Pyongyang, the most recent of which were passed earlier this month, but the measures have done little to quell Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear missile ambitions.
Thursday’s live fire drill took place at the Pilseung shooting range in Gangwon province, some 150 kilometres south of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.