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Rival Koreas scramble warplanes in extension of tensions



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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea scrambled about 80 military aircraft, including the advanced F-35 fighter jet, on Friday after tracking about 180 flights by North Korean warplanes. inside Korean territory.

North Korea’s deployment of fighter jets comes after the country test-fired about 30 ballistic missiles in the previous two days, including one intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday, triggered an evacuation alert in Japan, in an angry response to ongoing joint exercises by hundreds of US and South Korean military aircraft.

Late on Friday, North Korea’s foreign ministry called its military actions this week an appropriate response to the joint drills, which it described as a display of “confrontation hysteria”. military” of the United States. They said North Korea would respond with the “strongest countermeasure” to any attempt by “hostile forces” to infringe upon its sovereignty or security interests.

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

None of the planes violated the South Korean military’s virtual “tactical action” line, 20 to 50 kilometers (12 to 30 miles) from North Korea’s land and sea boundaries. north and was used for surveillance purposes to give the South enough time to respond to provocations or attacks.

South Korea still operates about 80 of its fighters, including an unspecified number of F-35 fighters. There are no immediate reports of clashes.

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

The extension of the drills was announced on Thursday after North Korea test-fired an ICBM, triggered an evacuation alert and temporarily halted trains in northern Japan. It 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 over the extension of the drills. North Korea then fired three more missiles into the sea and fired about 80 shells into the eastern part of the maritime buffer created by the adversaries off its east and west coasts in 2018 as a part of the de-escalation agreement.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired more than 20 missiles, at most it came out in one day. These launches come after Pak made a veiled threat of a nuclear conflict with the United States and South Korea over their joint drills, which North Korea says are rehearsals for a military drill. potential invasion.

After setting an annual record of dozens of ballistic missile launches in 2022, North Korea has continued to ramp up its testing activity since late September, including what it describes as missile launches. simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and American targets. They said their tests were seen as a warning against US military exercises with allies South Korea and Japan.

In response to North Korea’s increased weapons tests and growing nuclear threat, the United States and South Korea this year resumed large-scale military exercises that were reduced or suspended. only in previous years to support the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea and because of the epidemic.

Hong Min, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said North Korea particularly despises US F-35B stealth fighters that can be heavily armed for missions. land attack. He said North Korea’s rocket and artillery attack this week could present a sense of alarm.

“The sheer number of 240 fighters (participating in joint exercises) is also extraordinary,” Hong said. “By comparison, the United States fought the Gulf War in the early 1990s with most of its air power coming from two aircraft carriers, each with a capacity of 80 fighters.”

In a statement issued by an unnamed spokesman, North Korea’s foreign ministry said the United States and South Korea had created a “serious atmosphere of instability” in the region with their military drills. They accuse the United States of mobilizing its allies in a campaign that uses sanctions and military intimidation to pressure North Korea to unilaterally disarm.

“Protracted provocation is bound to be followed by a lasting counter-attack,” the statement said.

“(North Korea) once again made it clear that it will never tolerate any attempt by hostile forces to infringe upon its sovereignty and security interests, but will respond with countermeasures.” fight back hardest to the end”.

North Korea has launched dozens of ballistic missiles this year, including multiple ICBMs and a medium-range missile that flew over Japan. South Korean officials say there are signs that North Korea may in the coming weeks detonate its first nuclear test device since 2017.

Experts say North Korea is trying to force the United States to accept it as a nuclear power and seek to negotiate economic and security concessions from a great power status. North Korea has underscored its threats with an escalating nuclear doctrine that allows for a pre-emptive nuclear strike in a variety of loosely defined crisis situations.

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

Both defense leaders stressed that any use of nuclear weapons, including less productive tactical nuclear devices, against Seoul or other regional allies such as Japan, would “led to the end of the Kim Jong Un regime by an overwhelming and decisive coalition response. ,” Lee said during a joint press conference with Austin.

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