The United States sent nuclear-capable supersonic bombers streaking over ally South Korea in a show of force meant to cow North Korea after its recent nuclear test and also to settle rattled nerves in the South.
The B-1B bombers, escorted by US and South Korean jets, were seen by an Associated Press photographer as they flew over Osan Air Base, which is 120 kilometers from the border with North Korea, the world’s most heavily armed. The bombers were likely to return to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, without landing in South Korea.
Such flyovers are common during higher-than-normal animosity on the Korean Peninsula, which is technically in a state of war as there has never been a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea does not have nuclear weapons and relies on the US “nuclear umbrella” as a deterrent to North Korea.
Washington also stations more than 28,000 troops in the South.
North Korea is keenly aware of the US presence on the peninsula and of what it considers the US nuclear threat. It uses such flyovers and the American military influence in the South in its propaganda as proof of US hostility that it claims as the reason it needs a nuclear bomb program.
“The United States and (South Korea) are taking actions every day to strengthen our alliance and respond to North Korea’s continued aggressive behavior,” General Vincent Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea, said in a statement.
Last week’s nuclear test, the North’s fifth, was its most powerful test to date. Pyongyang‘s claim to have used “standardized” warheads in the detonation makes some outsiders worry that it is making headway in its push to develop small, sophisticated warheads that can be mounted on missiles that can reach the US mainland.