Seoul, South Korea
North Korea fired at least 10 missiles Wednesday, including one that landed close to South Korean territorial waters for the first time since the 1945 division of the peninsula, South Korean officials said.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said one short-range ballistic missile landed in international waters 167 kilometers (104 miles) northwest of South Korea’s Ulleungdo island, about 26 kilometers south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) – the de facto inter-Korean maritime border that North Korea does not recognize.
An air raid warning on the island, located about 120 kilometers east of the peninsula, was lifted on Wednesday afternoon.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday said the North Korean test was an “effective territorial encroachment.”
At an emergency National Security Council (NSC) meeting Wednesday, Yoon “ordered that a stern response be swiftly taken so that North Korea’s provocation pays a clear price,” according to South Korea’s presidential office.
In an immediate response, South Korea launched three air-to-surface missiles from F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets on Wednesday morning, according to JCS.
JCS said the South Korean Air Force targeted international waters north of the NLL at an equal distance to that which the North Korean missile had earlier landed south of the line.
“Our military’s precise strike showed our will to firmly respond to any North Korean provocations including short-range ballistic missile, and our capability and readiness to precisely target the enemy,” JCS said.
North Korea is “fully responsible” for the situation as they are the ones continuing to provoke despite warnings, JCS added.
Wednesday’s launch is North Korea’s 29th this year, according to a CNN count.
The aggressive acceleration in weapons testing has sparked alarm in the region, with the US, South Korea and Japan responding with missile launches and joint military exercises.
On Monday, the United States and South Korea began previously scheduled large-scale military exercises called “Vigilant Storm.”
The maneuvers involve 240 aircraft and “thousands of service members” from both countries, according to the US Defense Department.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is scheduled to meet with his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup at the Pentagon on Thursday.
Experts have previously told CNN that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be sending a message by deliberately showcasing the nation’s arsenal during a period of heightened global conflict.
Last month, North Korean state media broke six months of silence over this year’s spate of missile tests, claiming they were meant to demonstrate Pyongyang’s readiness to fire tactical nuclear warheads at potential targets in the South.
The latest tests also come after the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog warned last week that Pyongyang could be preparing for a nuclear test – its first since 2017 – with satellite imagery showing activity at its underground nuclear test site.
“We are following this very, very closely. We hope it doesn’t happen but indications unfortunately go in another direction,” said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi last Thursday.
Speaking Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that North Korea is launching missiles at an “unprecedentedly high frequency.”
Kishida also called for a National Security Council meeting to be held as soon as possible due to the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Earlier Wednesday, Japanese Defence Minister Yaukazu Hamada said North Korea fired at least two missiles and both were estimated to have fallen outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
No damage to aircraft or vessels has been reported at this time, and it is possible the ballistic missiles flew on an irregular trajectory, he added.