North Korea: Missile tests were practiced to attack southern US

Seoul, South Korea — North Korea’s military said Monday the recent spate of missile tests were practices to attack its rivals’ air bases and warplanes and cripple their operational command systems, showing Pyongyang’s determination to counter provocative US-South Korean military exercises “more thoroughly and mercilessly.”

North Korea fired dozens of rockets and flew fighter jets last week and issued evacuation alerts in some South Korean and Japanese areas in response to massive US-South Korean air force exercises, which the North regards as an invasion rehearsal.

US and South Korean officials strongly condemned the North’s missile launches, saying their drills were defensive in nature.

“The recent relevant military operations by the Korean People’s Army are a clear response from (North Korea) that the more persistently the provocative military moves of the enemies continue, the KPA will crack down on them more thoroughly and mercilessly,” the Korean General Staff told the People’s Army in a statement released by state media.

It said its weapons tests included ballistic missiles loaded with dispersion warheads and underground infiltration warheads designed to launch attacks on enemy air bases; surface-to-air missiles designed to “destroy” enemy aircraft at various altitudes and distances; and strategic cruise missiles.

The North’s military said it had conducted an important test of a ballistic missile with a special operational warhead tasked with “paralyzing the enemy’s operations management system.” It said it also fired super-large multiple rockets and tactical ballistic missiles.

It did not specifically mention a reported Thursday launch of an ICBM aimed at hitting the US mainland. Almost all of the other North missiles fired last week were likely short-range weapons, many of them nuclear-capable weapons. They place key military targets in South Korea, including US military bases there, within strike range.

“The KPA General Staff once again clarifies that it will continue to respond to all enemy anti- (North Korea) war drills with sustained, resolute and overwhelming practical military action,” it said.

This year’s “Vigilant Storm” air force drills between the United States and South Korea were the largest yet for the annual fall exercises. The drills involved 240 fighter jets, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries. The Allies were originally scheduled to conduct the exercises for five days through Friday, but extended the training by an additional day in response to the North’s missile tests.

On Saturday, the final day of air force exercises, the United States flew two B-1B supersonic bombers over South Korea to demonstrate its strength against North Korea, the plane’s first such overflight since December 2017.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the B-1B’s participation in the joint exercises demonstrates the allies’ willingness to “reply earnestly” to North Korean provocations and the US commitment to defending its ally with the full breadth of its military capabilities , including nuclear.

Even before the “Vigilant Storm” exercises, in protest at its rivals’ other military exercises, which involved a US aircraft for the first time, North Korea tested a number of missiles in so-called simulated nuclear strikes on US and South Korean targets five times in five years.

Some experts say North Korea likely intends to use the US-South Korean military exercises as an opportunity to modernize its nuclear arsenal and increase its leverage in order to wring greater concessions from the United States on future deals.

US and South Korean militaries have expanded regular military drills since conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May, who vowed to take a tougher stance on North Korean provocations. Some of the allies’ drills had previously been scaled down or canceled in support of now-stalled diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program and to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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