SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States fired eight surface-to-surface missiles early on Monday off South Korea’s east coast after North Korea launched a barrage of short-range ballistic missiles on Sunday, a South Korean defense ministry official said.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted the South Korean military as saying that this action was evidence of “the ability and readiness to carry out precision strikes” against the source of North Korean missile launches or command and support centers.
South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol, who took office last month, vowed to take a tougher stance against North Korea and agreed with US President Joe Biden at the May summit in Seoul to modernize joint military exercises and joint deterrence posture.
The militaries of South Korea and the United States fired eight surface-to-surface missiles in an orbit of about 10 minutes starting at 4:45 a.m. Monday (1945 GMT Sunday) in response to the eight missiles launched by North Korea on Sunday, Yonhap news agency reported.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official confirmed the launch of eight Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS).
North Korea’s short-range ballistic missiles, fired toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday, may have been its biggest single test and come a day after South Korea and the United States ended joint military exercises.
Bilateral exercises between South Korea and the United States involved a US aircraft carrier for the first time in more than four years.
Japan and the United States also held joint military exercises on Sunday in response to North Korea’s latest missile tests.
North Korea, which is several weeks into fighting the first known spread of COVID-19, has criticized past joint exercises as an example of Washington’s continued “hostile policies” toward Pyongyang, despite its talk of diplomacy.
North Korea has conducted a series of missile launches this year, from hypersonic weapons to testing its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time in nearly five years.
Yonhap, citing an unidentified source, said the North Korean air strike was launched on Sunday from four locations, including Sunan in the capital, Pyongyang.
North Korea has continued its recent trend of not reporting missile launches in state media, which some analysts said is meant to show they are doing so as part of routine military exercises.
Officials in Washington and Seoul also recently warned that North Korea appeared ready to resume nuclear weapons tests for the first time since 2017.
Last month, North Korea launched three missiles, including what is believed to be the largest ICBM, the Hwasong-17, after Biden ended his trip to Asia where he agreed to new measures to deter the nuclear-armed country.
The joint forces of South Korea and the United States fired missiles in response to those tests as well, which the allies say are violations of UN Security Council resolutions.
Last month, the United States called for more United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its ballistic missile launches, but China and Russia objected to the proposal, publicly dividing the United Nations Security Council over North Korea for the first time since it began sanctioning it in 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Choi Soo Hyang in Seoul; Writing by Lincoln Fest; Editing by Tom Hogg, Neil Follek and Jerry Doyle)