HomeTop StoriesNorth Korea fires cruise missiles, remains silent about US soldier entering country

North Korea fires cruise missiles, remains silent about US soldier entering country

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired several cruise missiles into the Western Sea on Saturday, South Korea’s military said.

As North Korea has increased its barrage of missile launches in recent months, it has remained silent for the fifth day in public about the fate of a US soldier who stormed into the north this week across the heavily armed Korean border.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launches were detected around 4 a.m., but did not immediately report how many missiles were fired or how far they flew. It said the US and South Korean militaries were closely analyzing the launches.

North Korea has in recent years tested newly developed cruise missiles that it describes as “strategic,” implying an intention to arm them with nuclear weapons. Experts say the main mission of those weapons would be to attack naval assets and ports.

Designed to fly like small planes and travel through landscapes that make them more difficult to detect by radar, cruise missiles are among a growing collection of North Korean weapons aimed at overwhelming missile defenses in the south.

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North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near the capital Pyongyang on Wednesday. They flew about 550 kilometers (341 mi) before landing in the waters east of the Korean peninsula.

The flight distance of those missiles roughly corresponded to the distance between Pyongyang and the South Korean port city of Busan, where the USS Kentucky visited South Korea on Tuesday for the first time since the 1980s by a US nuclear submarine.

The arrival of the Kentucky came on the same day that American soldier, Pvt. Travis King sprinted across the border into North Korea on a tour of an inter-Korean truce village.

North Korea’s state media has not yet commented on King, and the country has not responded to requests from the US to clarify where he is being held and what his condition is. U.S. officials have expressed concern for King’s well-being, given North Korea’s past rough treatment of some U.S. detainees.

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It could be weeks or even months before North Korea releases meaningful information about King, analysts say, as the country could extend his detention to maximize leverage and make US efforts to secure his release more urgent. Some experts say the North could use King for propaganda or as a bargaining chip to win over political and security concessions from Washington, potentially linking his release to cutting back on United States military activity with South Korea.

The United States and South Korea have expanded their combined military exercises and agreed to increase the regional deployment of US strategic assets such as bombers, aircraft carriers and submarines in a show of force against North Korea, which has fired about 100 missiles since early 2022.

The Allies have also launched new rounds of emergency nuclear planning meetings aimed in part at allaying fears among the South Korean public about the North’s growing nuclear threat and quelling voices in the country that it should pursue its own deterrence.

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North Korea’s defense minister issued a veiled threat on Thursday, suggesting that the docking of the Kentucky in South Korea could be grounds for a nuclear strike by the North. North Korea has used such rhetoric before, but the comments underlined how strained relations are now.

The South Korean defense ministry on Friday described the deployment of the Kentucky and nuclear emergency planning meetings between Washington and Seoul as “defensive response measures” to deal with the North Korean threat. The ministry said in a statement that it “strongly warns” that any nuclear strike by the North against the Allies would meet with an “immediate, overwhelming and decisive response … that would bring an end to the North Korean regime.”

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