South Korean and Japanese jets have joined exercises with two supersonic US B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula, two days after North Korea fired a missile over Japan, sharply raising tensions.
- Drills include South Korea, US stealth and fighter jets
- South Korea releases photos of US bombs exploding over peninsula
- North Korea says real reason behind drill is US "taken aback" by missile success
The drills, involving four US stealth F-35B jets as well as South Korean and Japanese fighter jets, came at the end of annual joint US-South Korea military exercises focused mainly on computer simulations.
"North Korea's actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilising actions will be met accordingly," Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence O'Shaughnessy said during an unscheduled visit to Japan.
"This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat.
"Our forward deployed force will be the first to the fight, ready to deliver a lethal response at a moment's notice if our nation calls."
North Korea has made no secret of its intention to develop the knowhow to launch a nuclear-tipped missile at the United States and has recently threatened the US Pacific territory of Guam.
It denounced the US exercises in traditionally robust fashion.
"The US imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces do not hide their bellicose nature, claiming that the exercises are to 'counter' the DPRK's ballistic rocket launches and nuclear weapons development," the North's KCNA news agency said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
"But the wild military acts of the enemies are nothing but the rash act of those taken aback by the intermediate-to-long range strategic ballistic rocket launching drill conducted by the army of the DPRK as the first military operation in the Pacific."
United States, Japan agree to put pressure in 'visible' form
US President Donald Trump has warned North Korea it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States and that the US military was "locked and loaded" in case of any provocation.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump declared "talking is not the answer" to resolving the long-standing impasse amid pushes for diplomacy from within his own administration.
"The US has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years," Mr Trump, who last week said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was "starting to respect" the United States, wrote on Twitter.
"Talking is not the answer!"
However, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, when asked by reporters just hours later if the United States had run out of diplomatic solutions with North Korea, replied: "No".
"We are never out of diplomatic solutions," Mr Mattis said before a meeting with his South Korean counterpart at the Pentagon.
"We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests."
On Thursday, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera spoke to Mr Mattis by telephone and the two parties reportedly agreed to keep putting pressure on North Korea in a "visible" form, officials said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he and visiting British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to urge China, North Korea's lone major ally, to do more to rein in the North.
They also discussed the possibility of adopting a new UN Security Council resolution over North Korea, a British government source said.