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(2nd LD) U.S. sends B-1Bs, F-35s to Korea as warning against Pyongyang

All Headlines 17:38 August 31, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS U.S. defense official's remarks in last 6 paras)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- Four F-35B stealth jets and two B-1B strategic bombers from the United States trained with South Korea's F-15K fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula on Thursday in response to North Korea's continued ballistic missile launches and nuclear weapons development, the South's Air Force announced.

The unprecedented combined maneuver involved the F-35Bs from Japan and the long-range bombers based in Guam as well as a squadron of four F-15Ks, it said.

They staged air-to-ground precision-strike drills against the North's core facilities over the Pilseung Range in the eastern mountainous province of Gangwon. They used MK-84, MK-82 and GBU-32 bombs.

An image of U.S. strategic assets dispatched to South Korea in a show of their robust alliance against North Korea. (Yonhap)

The Air Force characterized the training as a joint "air interdiction operation," saying it showed the allies' resolve to deal resolutely with the North's provocation that threatens regional and global peace.

Also mobilized was a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling plane, a defense source said.

"Our Air Force has the capability of conducting perfect combined operations," Lt. Gen. Won In-chul, commander of South Korean Air Force Operations Command. "No matter when, how and where the enemy provokes, we will perfectly retaliate to make it feel an insurmountable sense of fear and deep regret."

An F-35B stealth fighter jet of the U.S. Marine Corps based in Japan takes off from its base in this file photo provided by the U.S. military. (Yonhap)

The high-profile practice came two days after the North fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over the northern territory of Japan.

Thursday's mission by the U.S. warplanes was a direct response to North Korea's latest missile launch, U.S. defense officials also said.

The bombers and fighters came just hours after the end of the allies' 11-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) drills.

"The U.S. did not dispatch bombers (to Korea) during the exercise in hopes that the reduced scale would send a positive signal to North Korea and the region," a U.S. Forces Korea official told Yonhap News Agency, requesting anonymity.

But instead the North responded to the gesture with a series of provocative acts, added the official.

He cited the North's recent rehearsal of special operations raids against South Korea's border islands, three short-range ballistic missile firings and the IRBM launch.

In this year's UFG, largely war games, the U.S. reduced the number of its participating service members to 17,500 from 25,000 in 2016, according to the Pentagon.


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