The hermit kingdom has launched over two dozen missiles in the last two days in response to US-South Korean military exercises which began earlier this week and were extended till Saturday due to the escalation.
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean defence minister Lee Jong-sup, after meeting at the Pentagon, released a joint statement on Thursday, “strongly condemning” the North’s escalating military flexing.
“Any nuclear attack against the US or its allies and partners, including the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime,” Mr Austin said according to a joint communique released by the defence department.
Mr Austin said the test launches are “destabilising to the region” and called on the North to “cease that type of activity and to begin to engage in serious dialogue”.
He insisted that Pyongyang’s increased military aggression would not result in Washington permanently relocating troops and strategic assets to the region. Mr Kim would see additional US military presence there, he added.
On Friday, a day after Mr Austin made the comments, South Korea said it scrambled fighter jets after detecting around 180 North Korean warplanes moving near the border between the two countries. Seoul scrambled around 80 jets, including F-35A stealth fighters, in response to the North’s sortie.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said the North’s warplanes were detected in various inland areas along the country’s eastern and western coasts.
The ballistic missile test was preceded by the test firing of at least 23 missiles and 100 artillery shells that were fired into an eastern maritime buffer zone on Wednesday. The missiles were all short-range allistic missiles or suspected surface-to-air missiles, the South’s military said.
According to Seoul, one of the ballistic missiles was flying toward the country’s Ulleung island before it eventually landed 167km northwest of the island.
Meanwhile, the US and South Korean forces separately conducted their “Vigilant Storm” combined aerial exercise, which involved nearly 240 warplanes.