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U.S. Military Appears to Respond to North Korean Trash Balloons, Dispatches Pair of B-1B Lancers for Ultimate Show of Force

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Tensions are escalating on the Korean Peninsula as the United States and South Korea conduct live munitions drops over the peninsula on Wednesday for the first time in seven years.

The Defense Visual Information Distribution Service reported that two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers and two Republic of Korea Air Force F-15Ks used live GBU-38 munitions on multiple targets at the Pilsung Range to demonstrate their combined ability to provide air support and precision strikes in the event of war.

This demonstration occurs with news last week from South Korea that it will suspend a reproachment deal signed with North Korea in 2018 aimed at easing tensions.

This suspension came after North Korea flew over 1,000 trash balloons to the South beginning on May 28. The balloons contained manure, cigarette butts, and scraps of paper and cloth, but no hazardous materials, according to The Associated Press.

The North’s trash balloon tactics are in response to the South’s civilian leafleting campaign in which balloons containing leaflets, USB sticks with news and media, and U.S. currency were sent to the North.

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U.S. Forces Korea deputy commander and Seventh Air Force commander Lt. Gen. David Iverson said of Wednesday’s demonstration, “This training showcases the incredible capabilities of our combined forces to simultaneously strike multiple targets in a contested environment,” per the DVIDS.

Iverson added confidently, “The tremendous capabilities of ROK and U.S. airpower is an overwhelming, asymmetric warfighting advantage for our combined force that adversaries cannot match.”

South Korea, the United States and Japan recently met in Singapore to discuss recent concerns over the North, according to a report from Stars and Stripes.

The North’s trash balloons were coupled with firing short-range missiles towards the Sea of Japan one week prior to Wednesday’s demonstration.

Will hostilities again break out between the two Koreas?

While these missiles did not hit a target, the act in itself stirred tensions.

The Defense Department made a statement after the meeting, saying the United States “reaffirmed its ironclad commitment to the defense of Japan and [South Korea], emphasizing its commitment is backed by the full range of U.S. capabilities, including conventional and nuclear.”

From the events that have unfolded in recent weeks, it is clear that conflict on the Korean Peninsula does not take place in a vacuum.

Any escalation that would provoke a war would inevitably involve the United States.

Not only does the North possess the ability to strike major population centers in the South, but American servicemen are stationed in those centers, leaving open the possibility of attacks leading to both South Korean and American fatalities.

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The United States has had a longstanding commitment to the South that few in 2024 were around to witness in its infancy.

The Korean War began in June 1950 when the North attacked the South with the aim of unifying the Peninsula under a communist regime.

While the next several years would involve armies advancing and retreating on the Peninsula as the South was backed by the United Nations and the North from their fellow communists in China, an armistice would be signed July 27, 1953, as part of a campaign pledge by newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The 38th Parallel, the dividing line between the North and the South, remains a critical geopolitical marker. This is where the free world stops and communist tyranny begins.

The United States made a promise to defend the former against all aggression by the latter.


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Sam Short is an Instructor of History with Motlow State Community College in Smyrna, Tennessee. He holds a BA in History from Middle Tennessee State University and an MA in History from University College London.




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