Stars and Stripes
SEOUL, South Korea — Two supersonic U.S. bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula, officials said Wednesday, in a show of force amid growing tensions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
The Guam-based B-1B Lancers were joined by South Korean fighter jets and conducted drills in the seas off both sides of the peninsula, according to South Korea’s military.
A U.S. submarine with the capability of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles also made a port call in the South Korean city of Chinhae on Saturday, the Navy said.
Visits by U.S. warships and bombers along with regular joint exercises with the South infuriate North Korea, which considers them a sign of aggression and a rehearsal for an invasion.
The overflight came as North Korea watchers have been on alert for a possible provocation by the communist state in the days surrounding a key holiday Tuesday to mark the founding anniversary of its ruling party.
The warplanes simulated an air-to-ground missile firing drill over the sea off the east coast and flew across the peninsula, the military said.
They then conducted another firing exercise over the sea off the west coast before the bombers returned to Guam nearly three hours later, it added.
The military statement said the overflight was part of a regular exercise to enhance defensive measures and underscore the U.S.-South Korean alliance that has been in place since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The 360-foot long USS Tucson, which is homeported at Pearl Harbor, sailed into the U.S. base at Chinhae on Saturday as part of its deployment to the region, a Navy statement said.
It also stressed that the crew of about 150 “operates with a high state of readiness and is always prepared to tackle any mission that comes their way.”
"The Korean-American relationship is very important and our visit to Chinhae gives us the opportunity to strengthen the outstanding relationship that exists between the U.S. and [South Korea]," said Cmdr. Chad Hardt, commanding officer.
The United States frequently deploys bombers and other strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula to show off its military might in a warning to the North, which has test-fired dozens of missiles over the past year and a half.
Late last month, the Air Force sent two B-1Bs over international waters close to the North’s east coast.
North Korea has stepped up the pace of its efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could target the U.S. mainland.
Experts say the North is making rapid progress despite several rounds of punishing U.N. and other international sanctions aimed at persuading it to return to long-stalled negotiations.
In addition to the missile tests, it has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006. The most recent was on Sept. 3.
President Donald Trump has responded with a series of bellicose statements and warnings that he is considering several options for dealing with the North, including military action.
The White House said Trump met with members of his national security team on Tuesday to discuss the growing threat from the North.
“The briefing and discussion focused on a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or, if necessary to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” it said without elaborating.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.
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