Two American B-2 Spirit stealth bombers practiced an attack on the Korean Peninsula Thursday as part of a military exercise that has sparked angry threats from North Korea.
The U.S. military said the planes involved in the firing drill left Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on a “long-duration, round-trip training mission.”
Inert munitions were dropped on a range facility on the Jikdo islands off the western coast of South Korea before the jets returned to the continental U.S. in a single continuous flight.
B-2 Spirit bombers are capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear weapons.
Dubbed “Foal Eagle,” the training exercise involves about 200,000 South Korean troops and 10,000 U.S. forces and is due to continue until the end of April.
A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber (left) flies over Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on Thursday.
The Korean Central News Agency, the official state news agency, did not immediately have a response to the stealth bomber mission on Thursday. Previously, KCNA hit out at flights made by U.S. B-52 bombers.
The mission comes at a time of raised tensions between North Korea, its neighbors and the U.S.
A propaganda video posted on the country’s Uriminzokkiri website in February showed New York City under attack from North Korean rockets – a scenario thought to be far outside the reach of the poverty-stricken nation.
The video, which was set to a version of the song “We Are the World,” was widely lampooned in the U.S.
Another video posted in March showed an image of the U.S. Capitol building being hit by an explosion.
The U.S. military announced on March 15 that it was bolstering missile defenses in response to threats from the North, including a threat to conduct a “preemptive nuclear strike.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on March 20 that he would order military forces to attack American military installations in the Pacific and South Korea if its “enemies … make even the slightest move,” according to KCNA.
“When the drills turn into a battle, the enemies will be made to drink a bitter cup, unable to raise their heads, in the face of retaliatory blows of the strong revolutionary Paektusan army, he [Kim] said,” the same KCNA article stated in language characteristic of the state’s military-first government.
Tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula in December when the North launched a rocket test, and then again in February with the test of a nuclear bomb. The United Nations Security Council moved to impose further sanctions on the already isolated nation by a unanimous vote early in March.
On Wednesday, North Korea said it was cutting the last channel of communications with the South because war could break out at “any moment.”
U.S. ‘better stop acting rashly’
Another KCNA article said Wednesday that the U.S. had become “evermore undisguised in its moves to make a pre-emptive nuclear strike” on North Korea and that this “goes to clearly show who is the arch criminal threatening peace on this land.”
“The U.S. imperialists had better stop acting rashly, properly understanding the will of the army and people that have turned out as one in an all-out action for a final victory,” it said.
North Korea routinely issues threats that sound alarming, but expert commentators have said the recent rhetoric has been stronger than in the past. North Korea has even said it has scrapped the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
Reuters summarized current thinking about the threat posed by the North:
North Korea’s missiles have the capacity to hit bases in Japan and on the island of Guam.
Most military experts say that the North will likely not launch an all-out war against South Korea and its U.S. ally due to its outdated weaponry.
Pyongyang is viewed as more likely to stage an attack along a disputed sea border between the two countries as it did in 2010 when it shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.
Such a move would provide a major test for new South Korean President Park Geun-hye who took office pledging closer ties with the North if it abandoned its nuclear push.