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North Korea

US flies two B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula, test-fires THAAD missile after North’s ICBM launch

US action followed Pyongyang’s second ICBM test this month late Friday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 9:58am

The United States flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a show of force after recent North Korean missile tests. The US also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defence system located in Alaska.

North Korea said it conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday that proved its ability to strike America’s mainland, drawing a sharp warning from US President Donald Trump.

The B-1B flight, conducted on Saturday, was in direct response to the missile test and the previous July 4 launch of the “Hwansong-14” rocket, a US statement said. The bombers took off from a US air base in Guam, and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets during the exercise, according to the statement.

Watch: US tests THAAD missile system in Alaska

“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said.

“If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing”.

The United States often sends powerful warplanes in times of heightened tensions with North Korea. B-1 bombers have been sent to South Korea for flyovers several times this year in response to the North’s banned missile tests, and also following the death of a US college student last month after he was released by North Korea in a coma.

The ICBM, which the North first tested on July 4, is the highlight of several new weapons systems Pyongyang launched this year. They include an intermediate range missile that North Korea says is capable of hitting Alaska and Hawaii, and a solid-fuel midrange missile, which analysts say can be fired faster and more secretly than liquid-fuel missiles.

The US Missile Defence Agency said a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system located in Kodiak, Alaska, was successfully tested on Saturday night, Alaska time. It said that a medium-range ballistic missile was air-launched over the Pacific, and that the THAAD system detected, tracked and intercepted the target.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the midnight test launch of the Hwansong-14 missile on Friday night and said it was a “stern warning” for the United States that it would not be safe from destruction if it tries to attack, the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

North Korea’s state television broadcast pictures of the launch, showing the missile lifting off in a fiery blast in darkness and Kim cheering with military aides.

China, the North’s main ally, said it opposed North Korea’s missile launches, which it said violate United Nations Security Council resolutions designed to curb Pyongyang’s banned nuclear and missile programmes.

“At the same time, China hopes all parties act with caution, to prevent tensions from continuing to escalate,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

However, Trump said he was “very disappointed in China”.

In a message on Twitter, he said: “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet...”

“...they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” he said in a subsequent tweet.

The Hwasong-14, named after the Korean word for Mars, reached an altitude of 3,724.9 km and flew 998 km for 47 minutes and 12 seconds before landing in the waters off the Korean peninsula’s east coast, KCNA said.

Western experts said calculations based on that flight data and estimates from the US, Japanese and South Korean militaries showed the missile could have been capable of going as far into the United States as Denver and Chicago.

David Wright of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog post that if it had flown on a standard trajectory, the missile would have had a range of 10,400 km.

North Korea refers to the United States as its sworn enemy in its propaganda, and has done so since the 1950-53 Korean war in which the Soviet and Chinese-backed North fought against the US-backed South. The isolated country often shows mockup images of a missile hitting key US landmarks in its media.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press