US, South Korea extend ongoing joint air drills amid tension in region

Seoul says considering additional sanctions against North Korea following latest missile launches.

US, South Korea extend ongoing joint air drills amid tension in region

The US and South Korea on Thursday agreed to extend the ongoing largest-ever joint air drills following North Korea’s latest missile launches, local media reported.

The large-scale joint air exercises “Vigilant Storm” started on Monday and were scheduled to end on Friday, but the country’s air force said now it will be extended.

“The Air Force Operations Command and the US 7th Air Force agreed that it was necessary to demonstrate the solid combined defense posture of the ROK-US alliance under the current security crisis, which is heightened by North Korean provocations,” The Korea Herald reported, citing the air force officials.

However, they did not share more details about how long these air drills will continue.

Some 240 aircraft from South Korea and the US are taking part in the exercises.

The combined air drills were first held in 2015 and later suspended by the administration of then-President Moon Jae-in in 2018 as part of a drive for inter-Korean reconciliation.

This time the Australian air force is also taking part in the exercises.

However, North Korea launched around two dozen missiles on Wednesday, and three ballistic missiles, including a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), on Thursday, apparently in response to the ongoing combined air drills by South Korea and the US that, further escalating tensions on Korean Peninsula.

Sanctions

Meanwhile, Seoul is considering imposing additional sanctions against North Korea in response to the latest missile launches.

"As North Korea's provocations continue, we are considering imposing additional unilateral sanctions," Yonhap News Agency quoted the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Lim Soo-suk as saying.

Last month, South Korea also placed 15 North Korean individuals and 16 institutions on its blacklist in its first unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang in nearly five years.

South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also spoke on phone and discussed the latest situation in the region.

The two officials agreed to maintain a strong combined defense posture, describing the North's move as a "serious threat to the peace and stability" of the peninsula, according to the agency.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen further following recent military drills by South Korea, and the US as well as North Korean missile tests.

On Oct. 4, the US and South Korean forces held live-fire joint drills after North Korea fired a missile over Japan for the first time in five years.

Tensions in the region began in 2020 when North Korea attacked and blew up the inter-Korean liaison office along the border.

Hüseyin Demir

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