U.S. warplanes met South Korean and Japanese fighter jets for military exercises in response to recent North Korean missile launches as part of a show of force aimed at demonstrating that allied forces’ “full lethal capability” is ready at a moment’s notice.
Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, mincing no words about the message sent in the war games, said: “Let me be clear, if called upon we are trained, equipped and ready to unleash the full lethal capability of our allied air forces.”
Two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam Friday for a 10-hour mission with South Korean and Japanese forces, the Pentagon said in a statement. In South Korea, the bombers were joined by Korean F-15s and U.S. F-16s as it dropped a round of inert weapons for target practice. On its return to Guam, the bombers met Japan Air Defense Force F-2 jets for a flight over the East China Sea.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson, deputy commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, said the bombers and Korean fighter jets are “just two of many lethal military options at our disposal … to defend and to preserve the security of the Korean Peninsula and region.”
The moves are bound to be seen by North Korea as “provocative” and “threatening,” said Bruce Bennett, senior international researcher at the RAND Corp.
“They are bothered that the U.S. is bringing something so close to the peninsula that might be carrying nuclear weapons,” Bennett said.
The joint exercises underscored what the Pentagon called an “ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies” as North Korea tries to convince South Korea that the U.S. can’t be relied on for its defense, Bennett said.
“Ultimately North Korea still wants Korean unification on their terms,” Bennett said. “They would like to get to a point where they have a couple of hundred nuclear weapons and say to the South, ‘You can’t count on the Americans so surrender or else.’ That’s a possibility we don’t want to develop on the peninsula.”
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