SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The South Korean military fired warning shots, moved fighter jets and dispatched surveillance assets across the heavily fortified border with North Korea on Monday after North Korean drones violated its airspace over first time in five years. in a new escalation of tensions.
The South Korean military detected five North Korean drones crossing the border, with one traveling to the northern part of the South Korean capital region, which is about an hour’s drive away, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. South Korea.
The military responded by firing warning shots and launching fighter jets and attack helicopters to shoot down the North Korean drones. The attack helicopters fired a combined 100 rounds, but it was not immediately known if any of the North Korean drones were shot down, according to the Defense Ministry.
There were no immediate reports of civilian damage on the ground in South Korea. One of the North Korean drones returned to the North after three hours in South Korea, while the rest disappeared from South Korean military radars one after another, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The North Korean drones and the quick response from the South came three days after the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles. in the last of its torrid series of weapons tests this year. The launches on Friday were seen as a protest over joint US-South Korean air drills that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.
One of South Korea’s fighter jets on Monday, a KA-1 light attack plane, crashed on takeoff but its two pilots ejected safely, defense officials said. They said they also asked civilian airports in and near Seoul to halt takeoffs temporarily.
South Korea also sent surveillance assets near and across the border to photograph key military installations in North Korea as corresponding measures against North Korean drone flights, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. He did not elaborate, but some observers say South Korea likely flew unmanned drones inside North Korean territory.
“Our military will fully and resolutely respond to this kind of North Korean provocation,” Maj. Gen. Lee Seung-o, director of operations for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
South Korea’s public confirmation of any reconnaissance activity inside North Korea is highly unusual and likely reflects the determination of the conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol to be tough on North Korean provocations. North Korea could respond with fiercer rhetoric or weapons tests or other provocation, some observers say.
It is the first time North Korean drones have entered South Korean airspace since 2017, when a North Korean drone was found to have crashed in South Korea. South Korean military officials said at the time that the drone with a Sony-made camera photographed a US missile defense system in South Korea.
North Korea has touted its drone program, and South Korean officials previously said the North had around 300 drones. In 2014, several North Korean drones equipped with Japanese-made cameras were found south of the border. Experts said they were low-tech but could be considered a potential security threat.
A White House Homeland Security official said US officials were “closely consulting with the (Republic of Korea) about the nature of this incursion.”
“We recognize the need for the Republic of Korea to protect its territorial integrity,” said the official, who was not authorized to be named and comment on condition of anonymity. “The United States’ commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea remains unwavering.”
Earlier this month, North Korea claimed to have carried out major tests needed to acquire its first spy satellite. and a more mobile ICBM capable of reaching the continental United States. They were among the high-tech weapons systems that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to introduce along with multiple warheads, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear-powered submarines and hypersonic missiles.
Kim has also called for the development of reconnaissance drones capable of precision surveillance up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) deep into enemy territory. In 2013, he watched a mock drone strike on a mock South Korean target, according to North state media.
North Korea had previously released low-resolution photos of South Korean cities seen from space, but some South Korean experts said the images were too crude for surveillance purposes. Such assessments infuriated North Korea, and Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, issued a series of derisive terms to insult unnamed South Korean experts and express anger at her.
North Korea will hold a key conference of the ruling Workers’ Party this week to review past policies and set policy goals. Some experts say that during the meeting, North Korea will likely reaffirm its drive to bolster nuclear and missile arsenals to confront what it calls hostile US policies, such as US-led international sanctions and its regular military training with South Korea. South.
North Korea would eventually use its boosted nuclear capability as a bargaining chip to win international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state, relaxation of international sanctions and other concessions, analysts say.
AP White House correspondent Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.