SEOUL, South Korea (Dispatches)— Air raid sirens sounded on a South Korean island and residents there evacuated to underground shelters after North Korea fired at least 17 missiles Wednesday, at least one of them in its direction and landing near the rivals’ tense sea border, the South’s military said. South Korea quickly responded by launching its own missiles in the same border area.
South Korea declared that it fired three air-to-ground missiles that landed past the Northern Limit Line (NLL) -- a disputed inter-Korean maritime border -- and off the North Korean coastline, in retaliation to a Pyongyang’s missile launch that landed less than 60 kilometers off the South’s city of Sokcho.
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has made it his policy to take a tough line on North Korea, further threatened a “swift and firm response” against Pyongyang so that it “pays the price for provocation.”
“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,” Yoon’s office said in a statement.
The missile exchanges came just hours after Pyongyang demanded a halt to large-scale joint military exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces, insisting that such “military rashness and provocation can be no longer tolerated.”
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. The ongoing war games began just days after the allied forces concluded yet another major military exercise – called Hoguk -- that included 22 field exercises, featuring mock amphibious landings and river crossings.
North Korea further emphasized that the recent flurry of missile and artillery fires were in response to the persisting joint war games, which it regards as rehearsals for invading the country.
Moreover, Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a Wednesday statement that the number of warplanes involved in Vigilant Storm proved the exercise was “aggressive and provocative” and specifically targeted North Korea.
“The hostile forces’ inordinate moves for military confrontation have created a grave situation on the Korean peninsula,” Pak said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s state news agency KCNA.
According to Seoul’s military authorities, Pyongyang fired 17 missiles into the sea on Wednesday, marking the first time a ballistic missile had landed near the South’s waters since the peninsula was divided, and the most missiles fired by the North in a single day.
South Korean warplanes then fired three air-to-ground missiles into the sea across the NLL in response, Seoul’s military added, noting that aid 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 kilometers with a 360-kg warhead.
The North Korean weapon 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.