SEOUL — North Korea fired two short-range missiles on Monday morning, the latest in a series of low-level actions that appear to be a response to the ongoing joint U.S.-South Korean exercises.
Believed to be Scud-C type missiles, they were fired from the North’s southeastern coast and flew northeast more than 300 miles before landing in the East Sea, South Korea’s preferred name for the Sea of Japan, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.
North Korea conducted a similar launch last Thursday, firing four Scud missiles from the same area.
The missile launches come as the U.S. and South Korea approach the end of the Key Resolve command post exercise, which ends Thursday.
“North Korea seems to be taking the opportunity to provoke South Korea and the U.S. during the exercise,” a South Korea Ministry of National Defense spokesman said Monday, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. “It seems like North Korea did this to raise tensions on the peninsula.”
Meanwhile, the 7th Fleet’s flagship USS Blue Ridge was scheduled to arrive Monday to take part in Key Resolve, according to U.S. Forces Korea.
South Korea’s Yonhap News reported that the USS Columbus, a nuclear-powered submarine, also arrived in Busan on Monday for the exercise. USFK did not acknowledge the arrival of the Columbus, saying in an emailed statement that it does not discuss submarine operations but “the USS [sic] is currently on a routine deployment to the Western Pacific.”
USFK said the 7th Fleet participates each year in Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the annual late summer joint exercise.
Approximately 12,700 U.S. troops are participating in Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, a field training exercise that runs through April 18. About 200,000 South Korean troops are participating in the drills, both of which began Feb. 24.
On the first day of the exercises, a North Korean naval vessel repeatedly crossed the disputed Northern Limit Line, the maritime border between the two Koreas, according to South Korean officials. The 420-ton patrol ship crossed the line three times near Yeonpyeong Island, the site of a 2010 North Korean shelling that killed four people. South Korean military ships instructed the North Korean ship to leave the area and there were no further incidents, the South said.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries have stepped up their monitoring of the North’s military activity since this morning’s launches, another ministry of national defense spokesman said.
U.S. Forces Korea did not immediately comment on Monday’s missile launches.