N. Korea fires 23 missiles, one landing off South Korean coast for first time
North Korea fired at least 23 missiles into the sea on Wednesday, including one that landed less than 60 km (40 miles) off South Korea’s coast, which South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol described as “territorial encroachment” and Washington denounced as “reckless”, Reuters reported.
It was the first time a ballistic missile had landed near the South’s waters since the peninsula was divided in 1945, and the most missiles fired by the North in a single day. South Korea issued rare air raid warnings and launched its own missiles in response.
According to Reuters the launches came just hours after Pyongyang demanded that the United States and South Korea stop large-scale military exercises, saying such “military rashness and provocation can be no longer tolerated”.
In Washington, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby called the North Korean launches “reckless” and said the United States would make sure it had the military capabilities in place to defend its treaty allies South Korea and Japan.
The missile landed outside South Korea’s territorial waters, but south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed inter-Korean maritime border.
South Korean warplanes fired three air-to-ground missiles into the sea north across the NLL in response, the South’s military said. An official said the weapons used included an AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER, which is a U.S.-made “stand-off” precision attack weapon that can fly for up to 270 km (170 miles) with a 360-kg (800-lb) warhead, read the report.
The South’s launches came after Yoon’s office vowed a “swift and firm response”.
“President Yoon Suk-yeol noted North Korea’s provocation today was an effective act of territorial encroachment by a missile intruding the NLL for the first time since (the two Koreas’) division,” his office said.
When asked whether the missile was flying towards the South’s territory and should have been intercepted, a senior presidential official said, “Strictly speaking, it did not land in our territory but in the Exclusive Economic Zone under our jurisdiction, therefore it was not subject to interception”.
According to Reuters North Korea has continuously been launching missiles over the past year in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.
“It’s unprecedented in the sense that there were so many,” she said of Wednesday’s launches.
Kirby told his news briefing that the United States has information that indicates North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with a “significant” number of artillery shells for its war in Ukraine and that Washington would consult with the United Nations on accountability issues over the shipments.
Kirby said North Korea was attempting to obscure the shipments by funnelling them through countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
North Korea said in September it had never supplied weapons or ammunition to Russia and has no plans to do so, Reuters reported.
The missile that crossed the NLL was one of three short-range ballistic missiles fired from the North Korean coastal area of Wonsan into the sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The JCS later said as many as 14 other missiles of various types had been fired from North Korea’s east and west coasts.
The JCS said at least one landed 26 km south of the NLL, 57 km from the South Korean city of Sokcho, on the east coast, and 167 km from the island of Ulleung, where air raid warnings were sounded.
“We heard the siren at around 8:55 a.m. and all of us in the building went down to the evacuation place in the basement,” an Ulleung county official told Reuters. “We stayed there until we came upstairs at around 9:15 after hearing that the projectile fell into the high seas.”
The North also fired more than 100 rounds of artillery from its east coast into a military buffer zone, South Korea’s military said. The firing violated a 2018 military agreement banning hostile acts in border areas, the JCS said.
North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, read the report.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has tested a record number of missiles this year, and officials in Seoul and Washington say the North has completed technical preparations to conduct a nuclear weapon test for the first time since 2017.
Despite Yoon’s declaring a national week of mourning after more than 150 people were killed in a weekend crowd surge in Seoul, the United States and South Korea began one of their largest combined military air drills on Monday. Dubbed Vigilant Storm, the exercises involve hundreds of warplanes from both sides staging mock attacks 24 hours a day.
North Korea, which for years has pursued missile and nuclear programmes in defiance of U.N. sanctions, had said that a recent flurry of launches were in response to allied drills, Reuters reported.
Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a statement on Wednesday that the number of warplanes involved in Vigilant Storm proved the exercise was “aggressive and provocative” and specifically targeted North Korea. He said even its name imitated the U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in the 1990s.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the drills were purely defensive and harboured no hostile intent. Price added that Washington and its allies had also made clear that there would be “profound costs and profound consequences” if North Korea resumed nuclear testing. He did not elaborate.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing in Beijing that safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula was in everyone’s interest.
“We hope that all parties concerned will stick to the direction of political settlement of the Peninsula issue, meet each other halfway, and prevent the situation from escalating,” he said.
South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that because of the launches, some air routes over the sea between North Korea and Japan would be closed until Thursday.
NATO criticizes Putin for ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ nuclear rhetoric
NATO on Sunday criticized Vladimir Putin for what it called his “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric, a day after the Russian president said he would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Putin announced the move on Saturday and likened it to the US stationing its weapons in Europe, while insisting that Russia would not violate its nuclear non-proliferation promises, Reuters reported.
Although the move was not unexpected, it is one of Russia’s most pronounced nuclear signals since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, and Ukraine called for a meeting of the UN Security Council in response.
While Washington, the world’s other nuclear superpower, played down concerns about Putin’s announcement, NATO said the Russian president’s non-proliferation pledge and his description of US weapons deployment overseas were way off the mark.
“Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments,” a NATO spokesperson said in emailed comments to Reuters on Sunday.
“Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments, most recently suspending its participation in the New START Treaty,” the unnamed spokesperson said.
New START caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy, and the deployment of land and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
A top security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Oleksiy Danilov, said Russia’s plan would also destabilize Belarus, which he said had been taken “hostage” by Moscow.
Experts said Russia’s move was significant since it had until now been proud that unlike the United States, it did not deploy nuclear weapons outside its borders. It may be the first time since the mid-1990s that it has done so, Reuters reported.
Another senior Zelenskiy adviser on Sunday scoffed at Putin’s plan, saying the Russian leader is “too predictable”.
“Making a statement about tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he admits that he is afraid of losing and all he can do is scare with tactics,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Washington appeared to see no change in the potential for Moscow to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, and it and NATO said the news would not affect their own nuclear position.
“We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own,” the NATO spokesperson wrote.
Trump holds first 2024 election rally in Texas
Facing a potential indictment, Donald Trump took a defiant stance at a rally Saturday in Waco, Texas, disparaging the prosecutors investigating him and predicting his vindication as he rallied supporters in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
With a hand over his heart, Trump stood at attention when his rally opened with a song called “Justice for All” performed by a choir of people imprisoned for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Some footage from the insurrection was shown on big screens displayed at the rally site as the choir sang the national anthem and a recording played of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Associated Press reported.
The extraordinary display opened Trump’s first rally of his 2024 Republican presidential campaign. He then launched into a speech brimming with resentments and framed the probes, including a New York grand jury investigation, as political attacks on him and his followers.
“You will be vindicated and proud,” Trump said. “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced.”
Trump’s event at the airport grounds in Waco was part of a broader effort by the former president to use the potential indictment as a rallying cry for supporters to maintain his status as the GOP frontrunner in what is expected to be a crowded primary. It came one day after Trump raised the specter of violence should he become the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges.
Trump declared Saturday that his “enemies are desperate to stop us” and that “our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will.”
He added: “But they failed. They’ve only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle, it’s going to be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again.”
Biden warns Iran after tit-for-tat strikes in Syria
President Joe Biden on Friday warned Iran that the United States would “act forcefully” to protect Americans, after the U.S. military carried out air strikes against Iran-backed forces in retaliation for an attack in Syria.
Later, officials said that another U.S. service member was wounded on Friday in the latest tit-for-tat strike between Iran-backed forces and U.S. personnel in Syria, Reuters reported.
That comes on top of seven casualties on Thursday, which Washington blamed on a drone of Iranian origin, and included an American contractor being killed and five U.S. troops and another contractor being wounded.
Suspected U.S. rocket fire on Friday targeted new areas in eastern Syria, according to two local sources, with no casualties reported. Pro-Iranian forces in Syria said in an online statement late Friday that they have a “long arm” to respond to further U.S. strikes on their positions.
The violence could further aggravate already strained relations between Washington and Tehran, as attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers stalled, and Iranian drones being used by Russia against Ukraine.
Although U.S. forces stationed in Syria have been attacked with drones before, deaths are rare.
“Make no mistake: the United States does not … seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people,” Biden told reporters during a visit to Canada.
Asked whether there should be a higher cost for Iran, Biden replied: “We’re not going to stop.”
The Pentagon had said U.S. F-15 jets on Thursday attacked two facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said the U.S. strikes had killed eight pro-Iranian fighters. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the toll.
Iran’s state Press TV said no Iranians had been killed and quoted local sources as saying the target was not an Iran-aligned military post, but that a rural development center and a grain center near a military airport had been hit.
The U.S. strikes were a response to a drone attack earlier on Thursday on a base near Hasakah in northeast Syria operated by a U.S.-led coalition battling the remnants of Islamic State.
Three service members and a contractor required medical evacuation to Iraq, while two wounded American troops were treated at the base. On Friday, the Pentagon said the injured personnel were in stable condition.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the defensive system on the base had failed.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military had a complete site picture in terms of radar, though one official told Reuters troops on the ground did not appear to have had enough time to react to the drone.
A U.S. base at the Al-Omar oil field in Syria was attacked on Friday morning, according to the Lebanese pro-Iranian TV channel Al Mayadeen and a security source.
It is not uncommon for Iranian-backed groups to fire missiles at U.S. bases in Syria after they are hit with air strikes.
U.S. forces first deployed into Syria during the Obama administration’s campaign against Islamic State, partnering with a Kurdish-led group called the Syrian Democratic Forces. There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria, most of them in the east.
U.S. troops have been attacked by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since the beginning of 2021, according to the U.S. military.
While Islamic State has lost the areas of Syria and Iraq it ruled over in 2014, sleeper cells still carry out hit-and-run attacks in desolate areas where neither the U.S.-led coalition nor the Syrian army exert full control.
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