US B-1B supersonic bombers, together with F-35B stealth fighters, have conducted a joint military exercise with South Korea in response to Pyongyang’s recent moves, South Korean Yonhap news agency said, citing a government source.
The US military conducted a “mock bombing exercise over the sky of Korea” on Monday, the source said. After the drills, the F-35B jets and B-1B bombers returned to their bases in Japan and Guam respectively, the sources said.
The drills took part several days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile, which passed through Japan’s airspace near Hokkaido.
Tensions have been running high on the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test earlier in September. The North claimed that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb which can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a new resolution, banning North Korea’s textile exports and capping its oil imports following Pyongyang’s nuclear test. In response, North Korea vowed to increase its military strength. The resolution, “fabricated by the US,” proves that the road Pyongyang has chosen is “absolutely right,” North Korea says.
In his harshest response yet, US President Donald Trump warned that Washington is ready to use the “full range” of capabilities at its disposal and might resort to using its nuclear arsenal against North Korea.
On Monday, both the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that despite seeking a peaceful solution, the Trump administration is not ruling out a military option for North Korea.
“We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first, if that doesn’t work, [Secretary of Defense] General Mattis will take care of it,” Haley told CNN, while Tillerson stated to CBS that if US “diplomatic efforts fail though, our military option will be the only one left.”
Russia and China insist that the situation on the peninsula should be solved solely via dialogue, not military means.
Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly proposed a ‘double-freeze’ plan, in which North Korea suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korea military exercises. However, Washington rejected the plan, saying that it has every right to conduct drills with South Korea. It continues to carry out joint exercises with South Korea and Japan while amplifying its rhetoric against Pyongyang.
Earlier in September, when the global community was calling for sanctions on North Korea and the US was flexing its military muscle with its allies in the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that military hysteria over North Korea may lead to “a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life.”
“Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he said, adding that the examples of Iraq and Libya have convinced the North Korean leadership that only nuclear deterrence can protect them, so no sanctions can dissuade them.