SEOUL, Contrary to the original plan, nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bombers will not participate in the ongoing combined air drills between South Korea and the United States, a military source here said Wednesday.
"In the Max Thunder exercise that began on Friday, the U.S. F-22 stealth fighters have already participated, while the B-52 has yet to join," the source said on condition of anonymity. "B-52 will not take part in the exercise, which runs through May 25."
The annual two-week exercise hosted by South Korea's Air Force Operations Command and the U.S. 7th Air Force was planned to involve 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighter jets and an unspecified number of B-52 bombers as well as F-15Ks and F-16s.
The South Korean defense ministry also formally confirmed B-52's absence from the exercise.
In a related move, Moon Chung-in, a special security adviser to President Moon Jae-in, said in a lecture at the National Assembly that the decision was made at an emergency meeting between Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
The meeting was held for about 40 minutes to apparently discuss Pyongyang's abrupt decision to cancel the inter-Korean talks slated for Wednesday.
Pyongyang has repeatedly shown its aversion to the deployment of the B-52 bombers, part of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, over the peninsula.
The North's Korean Central News Agency demanded the U.S. stop bringing its "nuclear strategic assets" into South Korea, arguing that the move has dimmed prospects for next month's summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
"At a time when the DPRK-U.S. summit is approaching, the U.S. has launched the largest-ever drill involving B-52 strategic nuclear bomber, F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and other nuclear strategic assets. This is an extremely provocative and ill-boding act of going against the trend for peace and security in the Korean peninsula and dialogue atmosphere," the KCNA said in an English-language commentary released in the evening.
The deployment has "clouded the prospect of the upcoming DPRK-U.S. summit, to say nothing of suspending the North-South high-level talks that was just around the corner," said the commentary.
North Korea's protest came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un issued their landmark summit declaration last month, in which they pledged to halt all hostile acts on land, sea and air.
But the North's angry reaction has caused concerns that ongoing peace efforts could be jeopardized.
Pyongyang's protest also reinforced the conservative view that the communist state might use the inter-Korean declaration to oppose any allied drills that form an integral part of the Seoul-Washington collective defense system.
South Korea and the United States, however, will press ahead with their ongoing combined air drills as planned, Seoul's defense ministry said.
"The exercise will proceed as planned, and regarding that, there are no differences between the South and U.S.," the ministry said in a text message sent to reporters.
"On top of that, the exercise is designed to enhance the capability of pilots and is not an implementation of an operational plan or an attack maneuver," it added.
Source: Yonhap News Agency