POCHEON, South Korea (AP) — A huge North Korean flag disappeared behind a tower of flames and thick black smoke Friday as South Korean fighter jets and U.S. attack helicopters fired rockets in the allies’ biggest joint live-fire drills since the Korean War.
The war games south of the heavily armed Korean border come amid rising animosity between the rival Koreas and are meant to mark Monday’s 62nd anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 war, which ended in a truce, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically at war.
Live-fire drills by the allies are fairly routine, but using the North’s national flag as part of target practice is unusual — and will be seen as a provocation by Pyongyang, which has previously threatened war for what it called South Korean insults to the country’s national symbols and leadership.
Still, an immediate North Korean military retaliation is unlikely. The rockets didn’t hit the flag, which an analyst said might lead to a less angry North Korean response. But even a direct attack on the flag would probably only result in escalated North Korean threats because Pyongyang’s struggling economy prevents it from staging any attack that could cause a war, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
The one-day drills, involving 2,000 troops from both countries, are intended to send a clear warning against North Korea aggression by showing U.S. and South Korean combat readiness, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Officials have described these as the biggest ever joint drills. They coincide with several days of joint naval exercises involving a nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier and separate U.S., South Korean and Japanese naval rescue drills.
A U.S. military spokeswoman, Jennifer Buschick, wouldn’t comment on the flag, deferring to the South Korean military. A South Korean defense official, who declined to be named because of office policy, said the flag was meant to mark enemy territory during the drills, but he wouldn’t comment on Pyongyang’s possible reaction to use of the North Korean flag in the drills.
North Korea’s state media have condemned the ongoing drills as a precursor to an invasion, with the Korean Central News Agency warning that even a small clash could lead to a “full-scale regional nuclear war.”
Tension has been rising since a North Korean rocket launch in April that Seoul and Washington called a cover for a test of banned long-range missile technology. North Korea said the launch, which happened during celebrations of the centennial of late national founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, was meant to send a satellite into orbit; the rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the launch, and Pyongyang has since made a series of threats against Seoul’s conservative government and media, vowing to attack unless it got an apology for perceived insults against the country and its new, young leader, Kim Jong Un.
Thousands of civilians and officials — including South Korea’s prime minister — watched Friday’s drills. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, deployed Apache helicopters, A-10 Thunderbolts and armored vehicles for the drills, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Kim Jong Un took power as supreme leader of North Korea and its 1.2 million troops after his father, longtime ruler Kim Jong Il, died in December.
North Korea has condemned what it calls Seoul’s insensitivity to Kim Jong Il’s death and South Korean media criticism of important national events in the North. In recent months, North Korea has ramped up harsh rhetoric against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who ended Seoul’s no-strings-attached aid to Pyongyang after he took office in 2008, with posters and slogans that repeatedly call Lee a “rat.”
North Korea has also “drastically” increased fighter jet drills near the border with South Korea in the first half of this year, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, declining to be named because of office rules. The official wouldn’t provide further details.
On Thursday, the navies of the United States, South Korea and Japan began two-day annual search and rescue exercises near the southern South Korean island of Jeju. Starting Saturday, the United States and South Korea planned three-day naval exercises off South Korea’s west coast that include the aircraft supercarrier USS George Washington.
Sam Kim reported from Seoul.
More Related Stories
- Insurance company forces out historic women's safe house to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
Featured Slide Shows
Mobile Entertainment: 9 Amazing Drive-In Movie Theaters Still Standingclose X
- 1 of 11
Two-for-one for Everyone — West Wind Solano Twin Drive-In, Concord, Calif. This family-friendly attraction with several spots across the U.S. (including California, Nevada and Arizona) prides itself on offering first-run double features (save for premiere events) on the cheap — which is quite the deal, considering their 65-foot screens are among the biggest in the biz. And if you have great car speakers, even better: squawk boxes of old have been replaced with Dolby quality audio piped through your car’s FM stereo.
For the Four-legged Friendly — Warwick Drive-In, Warwick, N.Y. Northeast city slickers looking for a place to watch their favorite movie stars under the stars need only veer six miles east of Vernon, N.J. What began as a family affair in 1950 has since become a seasonal institution offering rural and urban (and pet!) audiences two movies for the price of one on any of its three giant screens.
Image credit: Gettywarwickdrivein.com
See Stars Collide — Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, Dearborn, Mich. Open year-round (unlike many of its surviving contemporaries), this five-screen staple of the Midwest known as the “largest drive-in in the world” plays host for up to 3,000 cars on any given night. And if the double-feature doesn’t hold your attention, relax; you’ve got the best (car)seat in the house for the occasional overhead meteor shower.
Image credit: waymarking.comwaymarking.com
A Hole (Lot of Fun) in One — Wellfleet Drive-In, Wellfleet, Mass.Built in 1957 and still offering original mono sound boxes for those looking for an authentic experience (or not, as FM stereo is available as well), the summer-exclusive theater hosts double features of first-runs on its giant 100’ x 44’ screen. Come for the movies, stay for the mini-golf and flea market (on select days).
Image credit: Gettywellfleetcinemas.com
Go Big or Drive Home — Bengies Drive-In, Baltimore, Md. The only thing bigger than Bengies’ prolific history (57 years and going) is its main attraction — boasting the biggest theater screen in the U.S. at 6,240 square feet. That’s 52’ x 120’ of pure anamorphic presentation. Complementing its time capsule of a snack bar (unchanged since ’56), previews old and new occupy the venue’s old-timey intermissions between features.
Image credit: Gettybengies.com
Proof That Film is Forever — Shankweilers, Orefield, Pa. While we’re on superlative street, consider stopping at this roadside treasure: America’s oldest drive-in. Operating since 1934, it may not have the frills and pony rides of nearby Becky’s Drive-In, but it’s defied hurricanes and the wear and tear of time. Worth the one-hour drive from Philly.
Image credit: Gettyshankweilers.com
The Gritty Hollywood Reboot — Corral Drive-In, Guymon, Okla. Like a slasher movie menace that died (several times) in the ’80s only to be rebooted years after, the long-vacant Corral Drive-In was resurrected and restored in 2009, providing big entertainment at a nominal fee. And if the $6 adult admission doesn’t make you feel like a kid again, the venue’s inflatable bouncers most definitely will.
Image credit: Gettycorraldrivein.com
Hop the Healthy Highway — Delsea Drive-In, Vineland, N.J. Less than an hour’s trip from Atlantic City, New Jersey’s only drive-in offers the best of both worlds — old school aesthetic outfitted with modern tech and healthier food choices to boot. Open seasonally, with first features beginning around dusk.
Image credit: Gettydelseadrive-in.com
Bring Your Backyard to the Big Screen — Starlight Six Drive-In, Atlanta, Ga. As much a backdoor barbecue as it is a night out at the movies, this six-screen Atlanta drive-in encourages what most in the theater biz forbid: bringing your own food and grilling it. Those looking to add a hip twist of the theatrical to their Labor Day getaway need only stock the cooler and pack some brats or burgers for the Starlight’s annual “Drive-Invasion,” which features a hot-rod show, live music, and B-movies galore.
Image credit: yelp/ivan.s.starlightdrivein.com
And really, what better way is there to cruise the nostalgia highway of old Hollywood than in a MINI Roadster? Allowing all the headroom one needs to see the stars on the screen and those directly above, the 2013 convertible goes the distance where it counts — on the road (obviously), not to mention the discerning driver’s wallet. Never mind that its fun-size frame also makes motoring in and out of tight traffic all the more enjoyable (or parking in even tighter spots for cozy romantics all the more convenient).
Image credit: miniusa.com
Recent Slide Shows
Mobile Entertainment: 9 Amazing Drive-In Movie Theaters Still Standing
The week in 10 pics
The week in 10 pics
The week in 10 pics
- 1 of 11