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US B-1B bomber to join S. Korea joint air drills: official

US B-1B bomber to join S. Korea joint air drills: official

A US B-1B strategic bomber will take part in ongoing joint aerial exercises with South Korea on Saturday, a Defense Ministry official in Seoul told AFP, a show of force after a bombardment of missile fire by the North Korea.

The wave of launches from Pyongyang on Wednesday and Thursday included an intercontinental ballistic missile and another that landed near South Korean territorial waters for the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The United States and South Korea have warned that the series of launches could culminate in a nuclear test by North Korea, and have extended their largest air force exercises until Saturday in response.

A South Korean defense ministry official told AFP that a US Air Force B-1B strategic bomber would take part in the final day of exercises, dubbed Vigilant Storm, originally scheduled for Monday through Friday this week.

“B-1B is to participate in afternoon training,” the official said, without providing further details.

The show of force came a day after South Korea dispatched fighter jets in response to what it said was a mobilization of 180 North Korean fighter jets.

Pyongyang has stepped up its missile launches in protest against U.S.-South Korean air drills. Such drills have long infuriated North Korea, which views them as rehearsals for an invasion.

Pyongyang had called Vigilant Storm “an aggressive and provocative military exercise targeting” North Korea, and said the United States and South Korea would “pay the most horrific price in history” if they continued.

North Korea is particularly sensitive to such drills, experts say, because its air force is one of the weakest links in its military, lacking high-tech aircraft and properly trained pilots.

Pyongyang has been particularly angered in the past by the deployment of US strategic weapons such as B-1Bs and aircraft carrier strike groups, which have been deployed to and near the Korean peninsula during times of high tension.

Although the B-1B no longer carries nuclear weapons, it is described by the US Air Force as “the backbone of America’s long-range bomber force” that can strike anywhere in the world.

The United States on Friday attacked China and Russia at the UN Security Council for “authorizing” North Korea.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield dismissed criticism of the drills with South Korea as North Korean “propaganda” and said they posed no threat to other countries.