In a show of force following weeks of North Korean bluster, the U.S. on Thursday took the unprecedented step of announcing that two of its nuclear-capable B-2 bombers joined joint military drills with South Korea, dropping dummy munitions on an island range. The announcement is likely to further enrage Pyongyang, which has already issued a flood of ominous statements to highlight displeasure over the drills and U.N. sanctions over its nuclear test last month. But there were signs Thursday that it is willing to go only so far.
The U.S. military said the planes involved in the firing drill left Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on a “long-duration, round-trip training mission.” Inert munitions were dropped on a range facility on the Jikdo islands off the western coast of South Korea before the jets returned to the continental U.S. in a single continuous flight.
B-2 Spirit bombers are capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear weapons.
In a statement, the United States Forces Korea said the mission “demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will.” Dubbed “Foal Eagle,” the training exercise involves about 200,000 South Korean troops and 10,000 U.S. forces and is due to continue until the end of April.