The United States and its allies flew supersonic bombers and fighter jets over the Korea Peninsula on Sunday in a 10-hour show of force against North Korea following the country’s latest ICBM launch.
The American B-1 bombers first flew over Japanese airspace, where they were joined by two Japanese F-2 fighter jets, before flying over the Korean Peninsula with four South Korean F-15 fighter jets, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said in a statement.
Escorted by the South’s jets, the U.S. bombers performed a low-pass over an air base near the capital of Seoul before returning to the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
The Air Force said the 10-hour mission was a direct response to North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests this month, the latest of which occurred on Friday.
Analysts say the North’s Friday test showed that a broader part of the mainland United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, is now in range of Pyongyang’s weapons.
Sunday’s joint mission also follows the U.S.’s Saturday test of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Alaska, which successfully detected, tracked and intercepted a ballistic missile launched over the Pacific Ocean by the U.S. Air Force.
“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” said Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander. “Diplomacy remains the lead. However, we have a responsibility to our allies and our nation to showcase our unwavering commitment while planning for the worst-case scenario.”
“If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing,” O’Shaughnessy said.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon to express his frustration with China’s inability to contain North Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also called on China and Russia to aid in the “peaceful denuclearization” of the North in a statement released on Friday, following the country’s ICBM launch.
“As the principal economic enablers of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development program, China and Russia bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability,” the statement read.
The United States often sends powerful warplanes in times of heightened tensions with North Korea. B-1 bombers have been sent to South Korea for flyovers several times this year in response to the North’s missile tests, and also following the death of a U.S. college student last month after he was released by North Korea in a coma.
The Hwasong-14 ICBM, which the North first tested on July 4, is the highlight of several new weapons systems Pyongyang launched this year. They include an intermediate range missile that North Korea says is capable of hitting Alaska and Hawaii, and a solid-fuel mid-range missile, which analysts say can be fired faster and more secretly than liquid-fuel missiles.
South Korea will be hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, which happens in little over six months, but an official from the South Korea president’s office said that there is “no possibility” that the threat of the North will interfere.
“The Republic of Korea is responding to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats through close coordination and cooperation with the international community,” the official told NBC News Sunday, “Our government will make every effort so that the PyeongChang Games will be a safe and successful gathering bringing the whole world together through harmony and peaceful exchange.”
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