U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has called the latest test-firing of short-range missiles by North Korea a “reminder” of the dangers on the Korean Peninsula and an affirmation of the need to show support of staunch allies in the region.
“That’s the reason I’m going there,” he said.
Speaking to reporters at Yokota air base in Japan during his first visit as defense secretary to the Asia-Pacific region, Carter was responding to reports North Korea launched two surface-to-air missiles Tuesday as he flew to Japan.
"If it's a welcoming message to me, I'm flattered,” he joked. “I've been on the job six weeks and that's two missiles. That's pretty good."
Carter then flew to Osan air base in South Korea, where military officials briefed him on the preparedness and capabilities of the U.S. forces.
Captain Van Morrissey, who flies F-16s with the 51st Fighter Wing in South Korea, told VOA readiness was a big focus at the air base.
“Our wing commander is always touting our ability to fight tonight,” Morrisey said. “We are always on the hook within zero hours notice to take the fight to the north if we need to.”
North Korea continues to carry out ballistic missile tests, despite bans from the United Nations.
It fired a series of short-range missiles last week to protest annual U.S.-South Korea military drills that Pyongyang views as practicing for invasion of the peninsula’s north.
Carter plans to meet with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and many senior level officials on Friday. He will also be the first U.S. defense secretary to visit the Cheonan memorial, which honors the 46 seamen and one navy diver who died in the sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan in 2010.
A South Korean and international experts say the ship was sunk by a North Korean submarine torpedo. Pyongyang has denied involvement.