Missile tests were practice to attack South Korean and US targets

FILE PHOTO – A woman walks past a radio station showing news broadcasts with images of North Korea’s missile test, at a train station in Seoul on Nov. 3, 2022. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

North Korea’s military said on Monday its recent ban on missile tests has led to “merciless” attacks on key South Korean and US targets such as as an air base and operational operations with a variety of missiles that may include nuclear-capable weapons.

The North’s statement highlighted leader Kim Jong Un’s determination not to back down in the face of his rivals’ push to expand their military capabilities. But some experts say Kim is also using their drills as an excuse to upgrade his nuclear arsenal and increase his power in future confrontations with Washington and Seoul.

North Korea fired several rockets and flew jets into the sea last week – prompting evacuation alerts in parts of South Korea and Japan – in an attack on the U.S. -South Korea’s massive military campaign that North Korea sees as a counter-attack.

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

“The recent military actions by the Korean Armed Forces are a clear response from (North Korea) that the more intense the enemy’s military actions are, the more and without mercy the KPA will attack them,” the North Korean leader. the military said in a statement issued by state media.

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He said the weapons tests involved rockets loaded with explosives and ground infiltration warheads meant to attack enemy air bases; surface-to-air missiles designed to “destroy” enemy aircraft at different altitudes and distances; and the submarine project that sank in international waters about 80 miles (50 kilometers) off the South Korean coast east of the city of Ulsan.

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The North’s military said it also conducted an important test of a missile with a special warhead to “paralyze the enemy’s operations” .” This can be interpreted as a simulation of an electromagnetic pulse attack, but some observers do not believe that North Korea has mastered the technology necessary to receive such an attack.

The North’s military statement did not specifically comment on Thursday’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at the US mainland, although its newspaper essentially published a photo of an ICBM-like weapon that was one of the ones used in last week’s test operation.

Some experts say that many of the other missiles North Korea launched last week were short-range weapons capable of hitting key South Korean forces, including with the American military there, in various attacks.

The following Monday, South Korea’s military disputed some of the North’s accounts of its missile tests. Spokesman Kim Jun-rak said South Korea did not see the North’s cruise ship and that it was important that North Korea did not comment on what Seoul had assessed as unusual from the ICBM.

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This year’s “Vigilant Storm” military exercise between the United States and South Korea is the largest – ever for the fall of the year. The exercise involved 240 aircraft including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries. The allies were initially supposed to conduct a five-day drill that ended on Friday, but continued training through another day in response to the North’s missile test.

On Saturday, the last day of the air exercise, the United States flew two B-1B supersonic bombers over South Korea in a show of force against North Korea, the aircraft’s first flight since December 2017.

South Korea’s Chief of Staff said that the participation of the B-1Bs in the joint exercise shows that the allies are ready to respond to North Korea’s anger and the US commitment to protect his friends with all his military capabilities, including nuclear.

After their annual meeting on Thursday in Washington, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Jong-Sup issued a statement condemning the North’s announcement recently and carried Austin’s warning that a nuclear attack against the United States or its 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.”

The two defense chiefs also agreed on the need to improve coordination and training events to strengthen preparedness against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

Even before the “Vigilant Storm” exercises, North Korea has been trying to launch missiles in what it calls simulated nuclear attacks on US and South Korean targets in an attack on its rivals’ other military operations involving US aircraft for the first time. in five years. In September, North Korea also adopted a new law allowing the preemptive use of its nuclear weapons in various situations.

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South Korean and American officials have firmly maintained that their drills are a precautionary measure and that they have no intention of attacking the North.

The U.S. and South Korean military have been expanding their military drills since May under the watchful eye of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to crack down on aggression against North Korea. Some of the allies’ previous exercises have been reduced or canceled to support the now-stalled diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program or to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For months, South Korean and U.S. officials have said North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test in five years. On Monday, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Youngse told lawmakers that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test at any time but that there were no signs of a test. Cracks will occur.

The North’s recent weapons tests come as it struggles to overcome the pandemic.

Russian officials said last week that they are resuming train services with North Korea after more than 2 ½ years of suspension due to the outbreak. A spokesman for Russia’s Far Eastern Railway told state media on Wednesday that the first train back to North Korea was carrying 30 pedigree horses and the next train was carrying medicine.

In September, North Korea resumed its freight train with China, its largest trading partner, ending a five-month hiatus.

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Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.

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