South Korea sent drones across the border into North Korea for the first time on Monday, an unprecedented tit-for-tat military move after Kim Jong Un's regime dispatched five unmanned aerial vehicles into its air space.
The exchange of drones, which briefly stopped flights from taking off at major airports near Seoul, came as Kim opened a major political meeting to set security, economic and political policy for the coming year, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday. He has spent the past year improving his atomic arsenal, showing no interest in returning to nuclear disarmament talks that have been stalled for three years.
Kim's regime sent five drones across the border on Monday, the first time he has done so in more than five years. The first one crossed the border at 10:25 am and returned after flying for about three hours. Four more were detected Monday afternoon and later vanished from radar, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Yonhap News Agency said one may have come into the Seoul area to possibly take photos of the presidential office. South Korea's military said it responded by scrambling fighter jets and military helicopters, with local media including Yonhap saying about 100 shots were fired at North Korean drones that broached its airspace near western coastal islands.
South Korea later deployed manned and unmanned reconnaissance assets to areas close to border and into North Korea that conducted reconnaissance and photographed military facilities, the JCS said in a statement. The move is consistent with South Korea's strategy over the past year to respond to North Korean provocations with similar maneuvers.
Kim has found space to ratchet up tensions as the US and its allies as President Joe Biden focuses on Russia's war in Ukraine. The moves increase the risks for the first major deadly clash in years, such as when North Korea bombarded the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong with artillery in 2010.
Kim has been modernizing his inventory of missiles over the past several years to make them easier to hide, quicker to deploy and more difficult to shoot down. This year, he has tested missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons to US allies South Korea and Japan, as well as firing off intercontinental ballistic missiles with ranges to hit the American mainland. South Korea has said its expecting Kim to test a nuclear bomb in the near future.
North Korea on November 18 test-fired an ICBM with Kim's daughter on hand for the launch, marking her first official appearance in state media. The move signaled that there's another generation ready to take over the Cold War's last continuous family dynasty and it will depend on nuclear weapons for its survival.
Kim has used year-end, multiday political events to make major speeches at their conclusion. In his opening comments, "he stressed the need to lay out more exciting and confident struggle policies based on valuable facts that achieved practical advance while persevering all difficulties," KCNA said.