South Korea’s military scrambled stealth jets on Friday after spotting the mobilization of 180 North Korean warplanes, Seoul said as it conducted large-scale joint air exercises with the United States that have infuriated Pyongyang.
North Korea launched a record-breaking bolt of missile launches this week, including a failed ICBM test on Thursday.
Seoul and Washington extended their largest-ever joint air drills through Saturday in response to the North’s barrage of missiles.
“Our military has spotted around 180 North Korean warplanes” mobilized in Pyongyang airspace, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, adding that Seoul “disorganized 80 warplanes, including F-35As” while the on the jets involved in the joint exercises are also “ready”.
Shortly after South Korea announced Thursday’s decision to extend joint exercises, Pyongyang launched three more short-range ballistic missiles, calling the move “a very dangerous and wrong choice.”
Hours later, the North fired 80 artillery shells that landed in a maritime “buffer zone,” Seoul’s military said.
The barrage was a “clear violation” of the 2018 agreement that established the buffer zone to ease tensions between the two sides, Seoul chiefs of staff said.
The artillery barrage came after Pyongyang fired about 30 missiles on Wednesday and Thursday, including an ICBM and one that landed near South Korea’s territorial waters for the first time since the Korean War ended in 1953.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin described Pyongyang’s ICBM launch as “illegal and destabilizing” and Seoul and Washington vowed to take new measures to demonstrate their “determination and capabilities” against the North’s growing threats.
Experts and officials said Pyongyang is stepping up its testing in protest at US-South Korea exercises. Washington and Seoul have repeatedly warned that Pyongyang’s recent launches could be a precursor to a nuclear test that would be its seventh.
Pyongyang has described the joint air exercises, dubbed “Vigilant Storm,” as “aggressive and provocative military exercises against” North Korea and threatened that Washington and Seoul would “pay the most horrible price in history” if they continued.
– ‘Against Humanity’-
The North’s latest launches come as South Korea finds itself in a period of national mourning after more than 150 people – mostly young women in their 20s – were killed in a crowd in Seoul on Saturday.
Pyongyang’s provocations, “particularly during our national mourning period, are against humanity and humanity,” Lee Hyo-jung, deputy spokesman for Seoul’s unification ministry, said on Friday.
“The government strongly condemns North Korea for continued threats and provocations, citing our annual and defensive drills that increase tensions on the Korean peninsula,” she said, blaming Pyongyang’s “reckless nuclear and missile development” for the current tensions.
In addition to extending Vigilant Storm through Saturday, the Seoul military announced the annual Taegeuk drill – which focuses on “improving wartime transition performance” and crisis management – would be held next week.
The computer-simulated exercise is being conducted to “bolster the ability to conduct practical mission skills in preparation for various threats such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons, missiles and recent provocations,” it said.
© Agence France-Presse