U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers have flown over the Korean Peninsula twice in the past seven days — a move that has drawn sharp criticism from North Korea amid rising tensions in the region.
On Monday, two U.S. B-1 bombers departed Andersen Air Force base in Guam and conducted a joint drill with South Korea and Japan’s air forces over the Korean Peninsula, according to the U.S. Air Force.
Separately, two B-1 bombers also flew over South Korea on April 26, a U.S. defense official confirmed.
Both missions were long planned and there was a decision to keep a relatively low public profile on the flyovers to avoid increasing the regional temperature, the official told CNN.
But Pyongyang accused the U.S. of intentionally carrying out a “military provocation.”
“The B-1Bs from Guam sneakily flew over sky above the East Sea (on Monday) and joined cooperative operations with strategic striking means, including the aircraft carrier and nuclear-powered submarine,” according to North Korea’s state news network.
“Due to the U.S. military provocations that are becoming more explicit day by day, the situation in the Korean peninsula, which is already sensitive, is being driven to a point close to nuclear war,” the state-run broadcaster said.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said Tuesday that the deployment of U.S. bombers was part of an effort to “respond to North Korea’s nuclear missile threat and to deter North Korea’s provocations.”
The second of the two flights came on the same day President Donald Trump said he would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “under the right circumstances” to defuse tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
No sitting U.S. president has ever met with the leader of North Korea while in power, and the idea is extremely controversial.
The U.S. has also directed an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the region and deployed a new anti-ballistic missile system to South Korea.
The U.S. use of Guam-based bombers to make a statement on the Korean Peninsula is not new. After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January 2016, a Guam-based B-52 made the flight.
U.S. bombers have maintained a presence in the Pacific since 2004.
Meanwhile, North Korea has lashed out at the U.S. after it conducted joint bomber drills with the South Korean air force, accusing it of reckless provocation.
Pyongyang described the exercise, which involved two B1-B bombers, as “nuclear bomb-dropping drill” that made nuclear war more likely. North Korean state media described U.S. President Donald Trump as a “warmonger”.
The outburst came as the officials said that a controversial U.S. missile defense system was up and running in South Korea — albeit in a limited capacity.
That announcement came a week before presidential elections in South Korea that are expected to bring in a government critical of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD.
Read more: CNN