With an unpredictable North Korea making the situation on the Peninsula more tense with growing threats including a preemptive nuclear attack on the United States and South Korea, the U.S. Strategic Command sent two of its B-2 Spirit stealth bombers on a round-trip training mission from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to South Korea, the U.S. Forces in Korea said on its web site.
The mission of the bombers, assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, was part of the ongoing U.S.-South Foal Eagle military drill and designed to demonstrate "the commitment of the United States and its capability to defend the Republic of Korea and to provide extended deterrence to our allies in the Asia-Pacific region."
The mission was also to demonstrate the United States' ability "to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will." It involved flying more than 6,500 miles "to the Korean Peninsula, dropping inert munitions on the Jik Do Range, and returning to the continental U.S. in a single, continuous mission," the statement said.
The B-2 Spirit, with its radar-evading stealth capability, is described an important element of America's "enduring and robust extended deterrence capability" in the Asia-Pacific region.
Announcement of Thursday's stealth bomber mission came only days after the U.S. Defense Department said it was flying B-52 bombers over South Korea to participate in routine military exercises.
The Foal Eagle exercise began on March 1 and will continue through the end of April.
In its latest threats this week, North Korea said it was placing its strategic missile units on combat readiness to target South Korea as well as the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam. On Wednesday, the North announced severing its military hotline with South Korea. Earlier this month, it snapped the inter-Korean Red Cross hotline through the truce village of Panmunjom.
Separately, the North Korean Foreign Ministry has said the United States' recent "hostile acts" have reached "the eve of nuclear war," as the participation of the U.S. B-52 bombers in the military drills is to "stage a nuclear bomb dropping drill aimed at a surprise nuclear preemptive attack" on North Korea.
The isolated, impoverished Communist country's anger has reached a feverish pitch since the United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions over North Korea's December long-range missile test and its February nuclear test, its third since 2006.
Yonhap News, quoting a senior military official said, the B-2 stealth bomber can penetrate anti-aircraft defense to drop conventional and nuclear weapons and is the "strategic weapon most feared by North Korea."
CNN reported there was no immediate reaction from North Korea's official media to Thursday's development.
"North Korea is not a paper tiger so it wouldn't be smart to dismiss its provocative behavior as pure bluster," a U.S. official had earlier told CNN.
There are about 28,500 U.S. forces currently based in South Korea.