SEOUL — U.S. B-2 bombers have conducted a firing drill on the Korean peninsula.
The U.S. military is making no secret that the non-stop flights of a pair of B-2 bombers Thursday from the United States to South Korea should be interpreted as a signal to North Korea.
A military news release announcing the mission says it "demonstrates the United States' ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will."
The strategic stealth bombers flew from Whiteman Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Missouri to drop inert munitions on an island off the southwestern coast of the Korean peninsula before heading back to their home base - a 20,000 kilometer non-stop trip.
Shin In-kyun, who heads the Korea Defense Network - an alliance of military experts based in Seoul - says it is unprecedented for the U.S. Air Force to be so transparent about such B-2 flights.
Shin says this means that the United States is taking seriously the provocative language from Pyongyang. And the B-2 is “a weapon North Korea fears the most.”
Twice earlier this month, during joint U.S.-South Korean exercises, the U.S. Air Force also dispatched B-52 bombers from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam to fly training missions over South Korea.
Both the B-2's and the B-52's are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The announcement of the B-2 flights came just hours after the defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea spoke on the telephone.
A Pentagon news release says U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin discussed the unwavering commitment of the United States to its alliance with South Korea, "especially during this time of heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula."
Earlier, Pentagon spokesman George Little was asked about the U.S.Defense Department's reaction to North Korea's cutting Wednesday of the only remaining military hotline with the South.
"This is yet another provocative and unconstructive step that the North Korean regime has taken," he said. "It's very important for the regime to focus on what we think is the right course of action and that is the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and their provocations and bellicose rhetoric is not helping the situation."
North Korea earlier disconnected the Red Cross hotline at the Panmunjom truce village and stopped accepting phone calls on the line linking it to the U.S.-led United Nations Command.
South Korea's government says the aviation hotline linking the Incheon and Pyongyang air traffic controllers remains operational.
South Korea has requested the North reconnect the military hotline which Seoul says helps ensure the safety of those entering the Kaesong joint industrial park from the South.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye held a policy meeting on North Korea Wednesday at the presidential palace. Ms. Park said her country will not be idle while Pyongyang makes threats to disrupt the peace.
More than 1,000 South Koreans on Thursday passed through the Paju border control post, to and from the complex just north of the demilitarized zone.
Officials say they are now using one of the 1,300 civilian telephone lines connecting South Korea to the Kaesong industrial complex to relay the names of those seeking entry, mostly employers and managers.
North Korea announced Wednesday it was immediately cutting off the hotline. The announcement blamed the United States and South Korea for rising hostility on the peninsula.
During this period of rising tension, which has included threats to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States and South Korea, the impoverished and isolated North has not disrupted operations of the industrial park.
The complex is responsible for $2 billion annually in inter-Korean trade and is one of the few sources of legitimate hard currency for North Korea.
Wages totaling $80 million a year are paid to the North Korean government, not directly to the 50,000 workers who assemble household goods.