North Korea fires another ballistic missile amid Freedom Shield exercise
Stars and Stripes March 19, 2023
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile Sunday, its seventh day of launches so far this year, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The missile was launched at 11 a.m. from North Pyongan province and flew eastward nearly 500 miles before splashing down in the East Sea, or Sea of Japan, the Joint Chiefs said in a message to reporters.
The launch is “a serious provocation that harms peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community,” the message said.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command announced in a statement Sunday said that the launch did “not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies.”
North Korea has fired nine ballistic missiles so far this year. The communist regime last launched a long-range ballistic missile on Thursday, hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol flew to Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida. It was the two countries’ first summit since 2011, according to the Joint Chiefs.
The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday that the projectile fired two days earlier was an intercontinental ballistic missile. It was launched to “exercise strict control over the enemies who are driving the tension and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula,” the report said.
Yoon, who has sought to mend diplomatic ties with Japan after decades of historical differences, said in a statement Friday that he hoped to work with Tokyo for a “brighter bilateral relationship for future generations.”
Yoon and Kishida agreed to coordinate their military intelligence to better respond to North Korea’s weapon tests, the South Korean leader told reporters after the summit.
Sunday’s launch happened as U.S. and South Korean forces conduct their largest joint military exercise in five years. Pyongyang views the Freedom Shield drills as a rehearsal of an invasion and has threatened to flex its own military power.
The 11-day exercise kicked off Monday and is defensive in nature, according to U.S. and South Korean military officials. South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said it will be held without interruption despite potential provocations from the North.
A U.S. B-1B Lancer flew over the Korean Peninsula as part of Freedom Shield, the South’s defense ministry announced roughly three hours after Sunday’s launch. The bomber was escorted by U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and South Korean F-35A Lightning IIs, according to a news release.
An American bomber last appeared in South Korea on March 6, when an Air Force B-52H Stratofortress flew alongside South Korean fighters in a show of force to “respond to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats,” the ministry said in a statement at the time.
U.S. and Japanese guided-missile destroyers carried out a separate missile-defense exercise in the Sea of Japan on Saturday, U.S. Forces Japan said in a news release that day. The USS Milius and JS Atago demonstrated the countries’ “shared values and resolve to hold the line against those who challenge regional stability,” according to the release.
The Atago, USS Barry and South Korean destroyer ROKS Sejong the Great conducted a missile-defense exercise in the Sea of Japan last month.