SEOUL – In a show of military might towards North Korea, the United States announced on Friday that it sent two B-1B strategic bombers flying over the Korean peninsula on Thursday, two days before US President Donald Trump’s tour of Asia, during which the North Korean crisis will be among its target issues.
The two strategic bombers conducted sequenced joint exercises with Japanese and South Korean fighters on Thursday, the US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) said in a statement.
Although the statement said the mission was planned in advance and not conducted in response to any ongoing event, it comes on the eve of the start of Trump’s Asia tour.
After a stop in Hawaii, the US president will reach Japan on Nov. 5 and travel to South Korea on Nov. 7 and then to China on Nov. 8.
He will then attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits in Vietnam and the Philippines on Nov. 10 and Nov. 12 respectively.
Apart from trade ties, the North Korea crisis is also expected to feature prominently on Trump’s agenda.
Repeated weapons tests by North Korea – including a nuclear test on Sept. 3 – as well as strong war rhetoric from the Trump administration have escalated tensions in the region to unprecedented levels since the end of the Korean War (1950-1953).
Shortly before the Pentagon confirmed the dispatch of the two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang already condemned the US mission through a statement released by its state news agency KCNA.
“The frenzied US scheme of threats and blackmail, which aims to crush our republic with nuclear (weapons) continues in November as it did in October,” read the statement.
Pyongyang also said that the B-1B bombers simulated attacks on important targets inside the country during the exercises.
South Korea’s army later confirmed this and said the US bombers conducted simulated air-to-ground bombing drills over the Pilseung shooting range in Gangwon Province, near the eastern border with North Korea.
Pyongyang also said in its statement that the Pentagon has sent several nuclear-powered aircraft carrier strike groups into waters near the Korean Peninsula, something it rarely does.
“The US may make frantic last-minute efforts to block our powerful advances by shoving nuclear strategic assets at us, but our army and people are not ones to be startled,” it warned.
The drills conducted by Seoul and Washington on Friday are part of the resolution the allies endorsed in their annual security meetings last weekend.
During the meetings, Washington and Seoul agreed to “enhance rotational deployments of US strategic assets in and around the peninsula,” including bomber jets, submarines and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
The US has repeatedly deployed the B-1Bs in recent weeks with the apparent aim of deterring Kim Jong-un’s regime from continuing its weapons tests.