North Korea said its move was triggered by the South Korean-US military drills that are taking place now, which it views as a rehearsal for an invasion of its territory. The burst of missiles resulted in Seoul issuing an air raid warning for the island of Ulleungdo.

What happened today?

At around 8.51 am on November 2, the third day of the US-South Korea military drills, North Korea fired 10 missiles, one of which landed in South Korean territory for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War, said a report in Seoul-based The Korea Times. A Reuters report put the number of missiles as 17, the most number of missiles fired by Pyongyang in a day.

The report said that missiles were fired from Wonsan, a port city in the east of the Korean peninsula. Three short-range missiles were fired into the East Sea and another one landed in the sea, 26 km south of the Northern Limit Line, a disputed maritime border that demarcates the two Koreas. Another longer-range missile headed towards the volcanic island of Ulleung, prompting authorities to trigger an air raid siren and evacuate residents.

South Korea responded by firing three air-to-surface missiles of its own into the sea to the north of the Northern Limit Line.

Why are US-Seoul drills taking place?

The drills, which were once a regular affair, had been scaled back in the past few years due to two reasons — the Covid-19 pandemic and the then-President of South Korea Moon Jae-in’s attempt to restart diplomatic talks with the North to denuclearise Pyongyang.

In June 2018, South Korea and the United States had agreed to suspend joint military exercises to give diplomatic efforts with North Korea “every opportunity to continue.” Under the Donald Trump presidency, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had participated in a rare summit in Singapore which was seen as a positive sign.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarised Zone, South Korea on April 27, 2018. (Korea Summit Press Pool via AP, File)

On September 18, 2018, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in signed the Pyongyang Joint Declaration which, among other points, agreed on closer economic cooperation and better communication to prevent military escalations. However, the talks fell apart soon after, and over the years, North Korea has stepped up its nuclear posturing, firing several missiles towards South Korea and Japan just this year.


What are the drills?

The military drills, being conducted between October 31 and November 4, are largely air-based and will test out scenarios of mock attacks 24 hours a day for most of the week. Termed the Vigilant Storm, the training event sees the participation of over 240 aircrafts and thousands of service members, and will fly nearly 1,600 sorties, said the US Air Force.

“ROK [Republic of Korea] and US Air Forces will work together with the joint services to perform major air missions such as close air support, defensive counter air, and emergency air operations 24 hours a day during the training period. Support forces on the ground will also train their base defense procedures and survivability in case of attack,” said the statement.

What is North Korea’s stance? 

North Korea has termed the exercises as “a war drill for aggression mainly aimed at striking the strategic targets of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] in case of contingency in the Korean Peninsula.”

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“If the US and South Korea attempt to use armed forces against the DPRK without any fear, the special means of the DPRK’s armed forces will carry out their strategic mission without delay and the US and South Korea will have to face a terrible case and pay the most horrible price in history,” a senior member of North Korea’s Workers’ Party said in a statement, reported The Korea Times.