Two U.S. Air Force bombers flew over the Korean peninsula in joint nighttime drills with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets.
The B-1B Lancers flew from the air base in the U.S. territory of Guam, which North Korea has threatened to strike in a missile attack, and flew "in the vicinity of the Sea of Japan and the East Sea," according to a statement from the Pacific Air Force.
While U.S. bombers have previously flown over the peninsula, this was the first time the nighttime drills occurred with both the Japanese and the South Korean air forces, in a show of military unity among key allies in the Pacific. "This is a clear demonstration of our ability to conduct seamless operations with all of our allies anytime anywhere," U.S. Air Force Major Patrick Applegate said.
The drills occurred on the day North Korea celebrated the 72nd anniversary of the regime’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party, founded by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il Sung. Japanese and U.S. officials had been on high alert over a possible provocation at the time of the anniversary, but North Korea did not conduct any missile tests or launches Tuesday.
In Washington, President Donald Trump received a briefing from Defense James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford on military options against Pyongyang. “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,” a White House statement said.
China reacted to the nighttime drills, asking for all sides to avoid provocations, Reuters reported. A Chinese-Russian roadmap to bring North Korea and the U.S. back to the negotiating table calls for the U.S. to suspend its joint military exercises with Japan and South Korea and for Pyongyang to halt its nuclear weapons development.
North Korea regards joint U.S. military drills with Japan and South Korea as threats against its existence. Last month, North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said his country would reserve the right to shoot down U.S. bombers after claiming that Trump “declared war” on North Korea with his U.N. speech threatening to “totally destroy” the country.
The White House dismissed the statement as “absurd" and the top Air Force commander in the Asia-Pacific said the North Korean threat was not going to change the way they operated.