SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired at least six missiles into the sea on Thursday, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that triggered evacuation warnings and halted trains in northern Japan, adding to a recent barrage of weapons tests that has escalated tensions in the region.
The ICBM test was followed by launches of two short-range ballistic missiles in the morning, drawing swift condemnation by North Korea’s neighbors and the United States, which reacted by extending ongoing joint air force exercises with South Korea.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries said North Korea later fired three more short-range missiles into waters off its eastern coast. Those launches came an hour after a senior North Korean military official issued a statement threatening retaliation over the extension of the U.S.-South Korea drills. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missiles traveled as far as 500 kilometers (300 miles).
On Wednesday, North Korea fired more than 20 missiles, the most it has launched in a single day.
After already setting an annual record with dozens of ballistic launches in 2022, North Korea has further dialed up its testing activity since late September, including what it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets. It has said its tests are meant as a warning against the United States’ military drills with allies South Korea and Japan which it portrays as rehearsals for a potential invasion.
Experts say North Korea is escalating brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept it as a nuclear power and at negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
The Biden administration said in response to the launches that it is willing to take “all necessary measures” to ensure the safety of the American homeland as well as South Korea and Japan. It also warned of unspecified “additional costs and consequences” if North Korea ups the ante by detonating a nuclear test device for the first time since September 2017. U.S. and South Korean officials have been monitoring possible test preparations in North Korea for months.
On Thursday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected that North Korea had fired an ICBM from an area near its capital, Pyongyang, and then two short-range missiles an hour later from the nearby city of Kaechon that flew toward its eastern waters.
The longer-range missile appeared to be fired at a high angle, possibly to avoid entering the territory of neighbors, reaching a maximum altitude of 1,920 kilometers (1,193 miles) and traveling around 760 kilometers (472 miles), according to South Korea’s military. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the launch was successful.
Japan said it lost track of one of the North Korean weapons, apparently the ICBM, after it “disappeared” in skies above waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Choi Yong Soo, a South Korean navy captain who handles public affairs for Seoul’s Defense Ministry, didn’t answer directly when asked about the possibility of the ICBM launch being a failure, saying that it is still being analyzed.
Citing anonymous military sources, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the missile possibly failed to maintain a normal flight following a stage separation.
The Japanese government initially feared North Korea fired a missile over its northern territory but later adjusted its assessment. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the alerts were based on a trajectory analysis that indicated a flyover.
The office of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida broadcast alerts through television, radio, mobile phones and public loudspeakers to residents of the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata, instructing them to go inside strong buildings or underground.