SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A malfunctioning South Korean ballistic missile exploded as it hit the ground Wednesday during a live-fire drill with the United States in retaliation for North Korea’s successful launch. a day before a weapon that flew over Japan and has the range to hit the US territory of Guam.
The explosion and subsequent fire terrified and confused residents of the coastal city of Gangneung, who were already concerned about increasingly provocative weapons tests by rival North Korea. His concern that it could be a North Korean attack only grew when military and government officials gave no explanation for the blast for hours.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said no injuries have been reported from the explosion, which involved a short-range Hyumoo-2 missile that crashed inside an air force base on the outskirts of the city. He said the accident did not affect any civilian installations.
Kwon Seong-dong, a ruling party lawmaker representing Gangneung, wrote on Facebook that a “weapon system operated by our taxpayer money, similar to blood, ended up threatening our own people” and called on the military to thoroughly investigate the failure of the missile. He also criticized the military for failing to issue an advisory about the failure while maintaining a media embargo on the joint exercises.
“It was an irresponsible response,” Kwon wrote. “They don’t even have an official press release yet.”
The South Korean military acknowledged the malfunction hours after internet users raised the alarm about the blast and posted videos on social media showing an orange ball of flames emerging from an area they described as near the base. of the air force. He said he was investigating what caused the missile’s “abnormal flight.”
Officials from the Gangneung fire department and city hall said emergency workers were dispatched to the air force base and a nearby military base in response to calls about a possible explosion, but were sent back by military officials.
The US and South Korean militaries are holding joint exercises to demonstrate their ability to deter a North Korean attack on the South. During the drills on Tuesday, they carried out bombing raids with F-15 attack planes using precision munitions and launched two missiles each that are part of the Army’s Tactical Missile System.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was scheduled to return to waters east of South Korea on Wednesday to demonstrate allies’ “strong will” to counter continued North Korean provocations and threats. The aircraft carrier was part of the drills last week with South Korea and Japan.
The homegrown Hyumoo-2 is key to South Korea’s pre-emptive and retaliatory strike strategies against the North. Some versions of the missile are similar to Russian-designed Iskander missiles, which are part of North Korea’s arsenal.
North Korea’s successful launch of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile hours before the exercises was the country’s most provocative weapons demonstration since 2017 and was its fifth round of weapons tests in 10 days.
That missile has a range capable of hitting Guam, which is home to one of the largest US-maintained military installations in Asia. North Korea in 2017 also tested missiles capable of hitting the continental United States.
North Korea has fired nearly 40 ballistic missiles in some 20 different launch events this year, taking advantage of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the resulting deep split in the UN Security Council to accelerate its weapons development without risking further sanctions. .
Its goal is to develop a full-fledged nuclear arsenal capable of threatening the continental United States and its allies while gaining recognition as a nuclear state and wresting concessions from those countries.
The United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland have called an emergency UN Security Council meeting over North Korea’s latest launch. The open meeting was scheduled for 3 pm on Wednesday.
See more AP Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific