The US and South Korea are extending massive aerial war games after North Korea put on a massive show of force in response to the drills.
Washington and Seoul started their Vigilant Storm exercises on Monday, which were initially scheduled to run 24 hours a day for five days. This year’s Vigilant Storm is the largest-ever iteration of the drills, involving nearly 100 American warplanes and 140 South Korean aircraft, and about 1,600 planned sorties.
Pyongyang made it clear it would respond to the Vigilant Storm drills, and it launched 23 missiles on Wednesday, which is said to be the most North Korea has fired in a single day. North Korea also fired over 100 artillery rounds on the same day and launched six more missiles on Thursday.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the extension of Vigilant Storm after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-sup. “I’ve consulted with Minister Lee and we’ve decided to extend Vigilant Storm, which is our long-scheduled combined training exercise, to further bolster our readiness and interoperability,” Austin said.
It’s not clear how long the war games will be extended, but North Korea is already warning of more consequences. “The irresponsible decision of the US and South Korea is shoving the present situation, caused by provocative military acts of the allied forces, to an uncontrollable phase,” said Pak Jong-chon, the secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
During their meeting, Austin told Lee that the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would result in the “end” of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un. “Any nuclear attack against the United States 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,” Austin said, according to the Pentagon.
Tensions have been growing on the Korean Peninsula throughout the year as the US and South Korea began conducting massive war games after a long pause, and Pyongyang has fired a record number of missiles. The pause in US-South Korean war games came as the result of the diplomacy between the Trump administration and Pyongyang.
The Biden administration refuses to change its approach to the North and is still calling for the “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, which is a non-starter for talks with Pyongyang. The US and South Korea have strengthened military ties since South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May. Yoon vowed to take a more hardline stance toward the North than his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, who was a proponent of Korean reunification.