Nuclear attack could end Kim reign

U.S. warns N. Korea as it launches more than 2 dozen ballistic missiles past 2 days.

By Lolita C. Baldor and Tara Copp | The Associated Press

WASHINGTON >> The U.S. and South Korea jointly warned North Korea on Thursday that use of any kind of nuclear weapon against Seoul or other regional allies would result in the end of Kim Jong Un’s regime, as Pyongyang continued to rattle the peninsula with escalating missile tests.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Jong-Sup Lee said the two countries would end the Kim Jong Un regime if North Korea launches a nuclear weapon.

North Korea has launched more than two dozen missiles over the last two days in response to U.S.-South Korean military exercises that began Monday. The launches have sent South Koreans scrambling for shelter and further frayed the nerves of a population already mourning the loss of more than 150 people at a horrific Halloween crowd crush.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, after meeting Thursday at the Pentagon, released a joint statement saying they “strongly condemned” North Korea’s escalating military flexing, including ballistic missile test launches, multiple rocket launches and coastal artillery.

In response to the launches, the U.S. extended the “Vigilant Storm” military exercise, which was scheduled to run through today. Late Thursday, the Pentagon announced the extension would now run through Saturday, depending on the security environment.

“Our combined air exercise with the ROK has currently been extended to Nov. 5,” the Pentagon said in a statement emailed to reporters. “We remain in close coordination with our ROK ally on any additional changes and the security environment on the Korean Peninsula. Our commitment to the defense of the ROK is ironclad.”

At the Pentagon, both defense leaders pressed that any use of nuclear weapons, including lower-yield tactical nuclear devices against Seoul or other regional allies such as Japan, would “result in the end of Kim Jong Un regime by the overwhelming and decisive response of the alliance,” Lee said at a joint news conference with Austin.

Austin also said North Korea’s increased aggression would not result in additional U.S. troops or strategic assets being permanently relocated to the region but that Kim would see additional U.S. military presence rotating there.

In its launches Thursday, North Korea fi red an intercontinental ballistic missile, drawing swift condemnation from the White House, which accused Pyongyang of “destabilizing the security situation in the region.”

The ICBM test was followed by launches of two short-range ballistic missiles in the morning.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries said North Korea later fi red three more short-range missiles into waters off its eastern coast. Those launches came an hour after a senior North Korean military official issued a statement threatening retaliation over the extension of the U.S.-South Korea drills. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missiles traveled as far as 300 miles.

The South’s military said the North followed those launches by firing 80 artillery rounds into the eastern parts of maritime buffer zones the rivals created off their eastern and western coasts in 2018 as part of agreements to reduce tensions.

Wednesday, North Korea fired more than 20 missiles, the most it has launched in a single day.

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have also increased over newly declassified reports that it is providing artillery for Russia to use against Ukraine.

North Korea was shipping an undisclosed number of artillery shells to Russia but “trying to make it appear as though they’re being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

North Korea has reacted to past U.S.-South Korean military drills with missile tests, which was one reason former President Donald Trump called for the exercises to cease for more than a year as he unsuccessfully negotiated with the North Korean leader to end his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Large-scale U.S.-South Korean military exercises resumed this year. Vigilant Storm —which involves more than 1,600 U.S. and South Korean flights involving about 240 warplanes — is the largest such exercise to date, according to the Pentagon.

Pak Jong Chon, a secretary of the North’s Workers’ Party who is considered a confidant of Kim Jong Un, has called the U.S.-South Korean air force drills “aggressive and provocative.”

“If the U.S. and South Korea attempt to use armed forces against (North Korea) without any fear, the special means of the (North’s) armed forces will carry out their strategic mission without delay,” Pak said, in an apparent reference to his country’s nuclear weapons.

North Korea in recent months has been testing a string of nuclear-capable missiles and it adopted a law authorizing the preemptive use of its nuclear weapons in a broad range of situations.

Some experts still doubt North Korea would use nuclear weapons first in the face of U.S. and South Korean forces.

The ballistic missile tests on Wednesday included at least 23 missiles as well as about 100artillery shells that were fi red into an eastern maritime buffer zone. South Korea’s military said the 23 weapons were all short-range ballistic missiles or suspected surface-to-air missiles.

One of the ballistic missiles was flying toward South Korea’s Ulleung island before it eventually landed 104 miles northwest of the island. South Korea’s military issued an air raid alert on the island, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. South Korean media published photos of island residents moving to underground shelters.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said at least two ballistic missiles fired by North Korea showed a possibly “irregular” trajectory. This suggests the missiles were the North’s highly maneuverable, nuclear-capable KN-23 missile, which was modeled on Russia’s Iskander missile.

In response to the missile barrage, South Korea quickly launched its own missiles in the same border area.

Experts say North Korea’s ramped up tests show an effort to exploit a divide in the U.N. Security Council deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine to pursue weapons development and increase pressure on the United States and its regional allies.

North Korea has punctuated its tests with an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes preemptive nuclear attacks over a variety of loosely defined crisis situations.

Experts say a North Korean nuclear test, which would be its seventh overall, could bring the country a step closer to its goal of building a full-fledged arsenal threatening regional U.S. allies and the American mainland.

“Should it go forward with a seventh nuclear test there would be additional costs and consequences,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday, noting that the test would be a “dangerous, reckless, destabilizing act.”

Nuclear disarmament talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since 2019 because of disagreements over an easing of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea in exchange for denuclearization steps.

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