By KIM TONG-HYUNG
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Two U.S. supersonic bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula for bombing exercises that are also a show of force against North Korea ahead of President Donald Trump’s first official visit to Asia.
A South Korean military official said Friday the B-1B bombers based in Guam were escorted by two South Korean F-16 fighter jets during the drills Thursday at a field near the South’s eastern coast. The drills simulated attacks on land targets, but didn’t involve live weapons, said the official, who did not want to be named, citing office rules.
The B-1B was originally designed with nuclear capabilities, but switched to a conventional combat role in the mid-1990s. However, North Korea’s state media denounced the exercise as a “surprise nuclear strike drill” and said “gangster-like U.S. imperialists” were seeking to ignite a nuclear war.
The North Korean nuclear threat will likely overshadow Trump’s trip to Asia, which starts Sunday in Japan and will include stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
In recent months, North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland with further development and has conducted its most powerful nuclear test. It also flew new midrange missiles over Japan and threatened to launch them toward Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory and military hub.
The United States has responded by sending its strategic assets to the region more frequently for patrols or drills. That has angered North Korea, whose foreign minister said in September the North had “every right” to take countermeasures, including shooting down the U.S. warplanes, though many experts doubt it has the actual intent or ability to do so.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday that the “U.S. imperialist warmongers” should not act rashly.
“The U.S. imperialists are making last-ditch efforts to check the dynamic advance of (North Korea) by deploying their nuclear strategic assets in succession, but its army and people are never frightened at such moves,” the report said.