North Korea fires ballistic missiles hours after Kamala Harris leaves Seoul

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles in less than a week in the wake of a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to the troubled Korean Peninsula.

The South Korean military said it had detected the launch of “two short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunchon area in South Pyongan province” on Thursday.

“Amid strengthened surveillance and vigilance, our military maintains full preparedness while working closely with the US,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Japan’s coast guard also confirmed a likely ballistic missile launch from North Korea, citing information from the defense ministry. The Japanese public broadcaster NHK said the projectile “appears to have fallen outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”

On Thursday, Harris arrived in Seoul on a trip planned to underscore Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea in the face of alleged threats by the North. Harris also visited the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas for the first time.

Harris met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at his office in the capital shortly after touching down from Japan, and praised the alliance between the countries as a “linchpin of security and prosperity.”

North Korea also fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan. Pyongyang had fired one missile before she left Washington, DC, on Sunday.

The United States has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, and the allies are conducting a large-scale joint naval exercise this week in a show of force. Under Seoul’s hawkish new President Yoon, Seoul and Washington have boosted joint military drills.

On Thursday, Seoul announced it would also hold trilateral anti-submarine drills with Japan and the United States.

The drills will bring together warships, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, the USS Chancellorsville guided-missile cruiser, the USS Barry guided-missile destroyer, South Korea’s ‘Munmu the Great’ destroyer, and Japan’s Asahi tanker.

North Korea has already warned the joint naval drills might trigger an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and South Korea have voiced concern that Pyongyang has made preparations to conduct its first nuclear test in five years. South Korean lawmakers briefed by the country’s spy agency said on Wednesday the North has completed preparations for the test and a possible window for carrying it out could come between October 16 and November 7.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. However, during inconclusive negotiations later with the US, it dismantled a nuclear facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since. The United States has warned it would push for additional sanctions if Pyongyang conducted a seventh nuclear test.

Pyongyang maintains its weapon tests are a defensive measure against threats from the massive presence of US forces near its territorial waters and the regular holding of joint war games with Japan with South Korea.

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