(National Sentinel) War Drums: A formation of two U.S. B-1B nuclear-capable bombers and four F-35B fighters joined four South Korean F-15Ks in an unprecedented show of force in the skies over the Korean peninsula following the North’s risky and provocative missile test earlier this week in which Pyongyang sent an Hwsong-12 ICBM over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.
As reported by Yonhap, a South Korean newswire service, the aircraft staged air-to-ground precision-strike drills against the North’s core facilities over the Pilseung Range in the eastern mountainous province of Gangwon using MK-84, MK-82 and GBU-32 bombs. The report described the aerial bombing exercise as “unprecedented.”
The Air Force characterized the training as a joint “air interdiction operation,” saying it showed the allies’ resolve to deal resolutely with the North’s provocation that threatens regional and global peace.
Also mobilized was a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling plane, a defense source said.
“Our Air Force has the capability of conducting perfect combined operations,” said Lt. Gen. Won In-chul, commander of South Korean Air Force Operations Command. “No matter when, how and where the enemy provokes, we will perfectly retaliate to make it feel an insurmountable sense of fear and deep regret.”
North Korea’s missile launch was the latest act of defiance by Kim Jong-un, even as U.S. officials including President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had praised Pyongyang for showing restraint following its threat to strike the U.S. military base at Guam with missiles.
“The U.S. did not dispatch bombers (to Korea) during the exercise in hopes that the reduced scale would send a positive signal to North Korea and the region,” a U.S. Forces Korea official told Yonhap News Agency, requesting anonymity.
As reported by Forward Observer, the North Korean missile test was risky in that it may put Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a position of having to back up earlier rhetoric threatening retaliation:
Japan’s constitution forbids it from launching first-strike offensive military action but under Abe the government reinterpreted the constitution in 2014 to allow the military to come to the aid of friendly countries under attack, including the United States. That said, one could even argue that North Korea lobbing ballistic missiles over Japanese territory could constitute outside aggression that would justify a counterstrike.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was betting that he would be able to get away with this risky test and so far he’s been right. If nothing comes his way except more threats of sanctions and “diplomatic protests,” he will take his risk as a win and push forward with new tests that will most likely pierce Japanese airspace. Until Japan and the U.S. push back.
The U.S., South Korea, and Japan may simply have to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea in the long run, as Kim does not appear willing to voluntarily give up the only means he believes he has of remaining in power — a nuclear capability.
Or maybe not, depending on how Trump decides to play this moving forward. He will need a ton of political support — from Congress, from the South Korean government and from Japan — if he decides to strike.
In that case, ironically enough it would be Kim’s relentless pursuit of a nuclear capability that would bring about the thing he fears most — perpetuating his regime.
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