Seoul: South Korea scrambled fighter jets after North Korean warplanes staged an apparent bombarding drill on Thursday, Seoul’s defence ministry said, as allied warships held missile defence drills and Pyongyang fired off the latest in a progression of ballistic missiles.
The rare bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four aircraft provoked the South to deploy 30 fighters. The warplanes amassed on each side of the intensely fortified border amid rising strains over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in the direction of Japan, just an hour after censuring the repositioning of a U.S. plane carrying warships to the region, and a U.N. Security Council meeting held in New York.
North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears prepared to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said. Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean landmass, and a U.N. Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.
The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which provoked joint South Korean and U.S. missile drills in which one weapon failed and burned. The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.
“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”
The launch came after North Korea denounced the United States for conversing with the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-U.S. drills, recommending its missile tests are a response to the allied military moves.
In a statement, the isolated country’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the U.S. aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it represented a serious threat to the stability of the situation.
The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships were unexpectedly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan. The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defence training, the South Korean military said on Thursday.
“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking, and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.
A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned Thursday’s launch as an infringement of the United Nations Security Council goals and a threat to regional neighbours and the international community.
The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to participate in the dialogue.
On Wednesday, the United States blamed China and Russia for empowering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by blocking attempts to reinforce U.N. Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.