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200 US, South Korean warplanes holding secret drills over Korea, report says

A U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, and Republic of Korea Air Force KF-16 flying side-by-side. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mya M. Crosby)
November 04, 2021

Around 200 U.S. and South Korean military aircraft are taking part in a secretive set of military drills over the Korean peninsula, according to a South Korean media report this week.

On Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that an unnamed official had disclosed the planned five-day-long joint aerial drill, which will feature 100 aircraft from each participating country. The South Korean media outlet reported participating aircraft would include U.S. F-16s and South Korean F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets.

A South Korean Air Force official declined to publicly confirm the military drills, saying, “We cannot comment on the exercise as it is one that is not disclosed to the media.”

The reportedly secretive of the drills come amid North Korean calls to resume diplomatic talks with their South Korean counterparts.

Yonhap News Agency reported the drill is another in a trend of low-key military drills that have been held between the U.S. and South Korea since it suspended their more visible large-scale Vigilant Ace joint drills. Reuters reported the Vigilant Ace drills had previously tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of cutting-edge fighter jets, bombers and other warplanes mobilized.

North Korea has denounced past joint U.S.-South Korean military drills as acts of provocation against the North Korean side.

North Korea has conducted multiple missile tests in September and October, including the suspected test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that landed in the waters off the coast of Japan.

In October, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accused the U.S. of “continuing to create tensions in the region with its wrong judgments and actions.” Kim said that in light of this tension he blamed on the U.S., North Korea must build up an “invincible military capability” that no one can challenge.

Last week, Reuters reported U.S. envoy for North Korea Sung Kim said North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests were “concerning and counterproductive” to efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. envoy said North Korea should instead engage with the U.S. in diplomatic talks.

“Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” the U.S. envoy said. “That’s why Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile test, one of several in the past six weeks, is concerning and counterproductive to making progress toward a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.”

North Korea has declined U.S. requests for diplomatic talks since 2019, after denuclearization talks brought about under President Donald Trump reportedly fell through over disagreements about sanctions relief.