North Korea: Missile tests were practiced to attack southern US

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea’s military on Monday said its recent spate of missile tests are practices to “mercilessly” hit key South Korean and US targets such as air bases and operational command systems with a variety of missiles, including likely nuclear ones. capable weapons.

The North’s announcement underscored leader Kim Jong Un’s determination not to back down in the face of pressure from his rivals to expand their military exercises. But some experts say Kim also used their drills as an excuse to modernize his nuclear arsenal and increase his leverage over future deals with Washington and Seoul.

North Korea last week fired dozens of rockets and flew warplanes toward the sea – sparking evacuation alerts in some South Korean and Japanese areas – in protest at massive US-South Korean air force exercises, which the North regards as an invasion rehearsal.

US and South Korean officials responded that they would continue to improve their joint training events and warned the North that the use of nuclear weapons would lead to the end of Kim’s regime.

“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 be more thorough and merciless in their action,” the North Korean General Staff said in a military statement State media statement.

It said the 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, which struck international waters about 80 kilometers (50 miles) off South Korea’s southeastern coastal city of Ulsan.

The North’s military said it also conducted an important test of a ballistic missile with a special functional warhead tasked with “paralyzing the enemy’s operations management system.” This could mean simulating electromagnetic pulse attacks, but some observers doubt North Korea has mastered key technologies to gain such an attack capability.

The North’s military statement did not specifically mention a reported Thursday launch of an ICBM aimed at hitting the US mainland, although its main newspaper published a photo of an ICBM-like weapon used during last week’s testing activities.

Some experts say many other North Korean missiles fired last week were short-range nuclear-capable weapons, bringing within range key military targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.

Later Monday, South Korea’s military denied some North reports about its missile tests. Spokesman Kim Jun-rak said South Korea did not detect the North’s cruise missile launches, and it is also notable that North Korea did not mention what Seoul assessed as abnormal flight of an ICBM.

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 respond harshly to North Korean provocations and the US commitment to provide its allies with the full breadth of its military capabilities, including nuclear capabilities , To defend.

After their annual meeting in Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup issued a joint statement strongly condemning the North’s recent launches and conveying Austin’s warning that any nuclear attacks would target the United States or their allies and partners “is unacceptable and will lead to the end of the Kim regime.” South Korea’s military has previously warned the North that using its nuclear weapons would put it on a “path of self-destruction.”

Both defense chiefs also agreed on the need to enhance combined exercises and training events to strengthen preparedness against North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

Even before the “Vigilant Storm” exercises, North Korea test-fired a number of missiles in so-called simulated nuclear attacks on US and South Korean targets in protest at other military exercises by its rivals, which involved US planes for the first time in five years. In September, North Korea also passed a new law allowing the pre-emptive use of its nuclear weapons in a variety of situations.

South Korean and US officials have steadfastly maintained that their drills are defensive in nature and that they have no intention of invading the North.

US and South Korean militaries have stepped up regular 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 to support now-stalled diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program or to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

For months, South Korean and US officials have said North Korea has completed preparations for its first nuclear test in five years. On Monday, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Youngse told lawmakers North Korea could conduct the nuclear test at any time, but there was still no sign such a test blast was imminent.

The North’s recent weapons tests came as it struggled to overcome difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Russian officials said last week that they had resumed train services with North Korea after more than two and a half years of disruption caused by the pandemic. Russian Far Eastern Railway spokesmen told the state news agency last Wednesday that the first resumed train to North Korea was carrying 30 thoroughbred horses and the next train was to carry medicines.

In September, North Korea resumed freight train services with China, its largest trading partner, ending a five-month hiatus. North Korea: Missile tests were practiced to attack southern US

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