U.S. bombers and fighter jets buzzed North Korea in what the Pentagon billed as one of the most significant shows of force this century.
“This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century, underscoring the seriousness with which we take [the North Korean regime’s] reckless behavior,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement Saturday.
The U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers deployed from Guam, a U.S. territory in the region that North Korean officials have threatened to attack in recent months. The bombers were escorted by F-15 fighters that took off from Okinawa. The bombers and their escort stayed in international airspace, according to the Defense Department.
“This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat,” White said.
President Trump’s team has negotiated with the United Nations Security Council to pass an array of new international sanctions in response to North Korean belligerence. The economic sanctions have been greeted by an unprecedented flurry of nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The regime launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time in July, detonated a hydrogen bomb, and launched two missiles over Japan.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said in an addressto the United Nations General Assembly. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un replied by insulting Trump and vowing to “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.” The regime’s top diplomat hinted that another nuclear test could be imminent.
“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told reporters in New York on Friday, per Yonhap News Agency. “We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong-un.”
The U.S. Air Force sortie could be intended to deter such a test. “North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community,” White said. “We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies.”