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Amid war of words, U.S. warplanes fly near North Korea in a rare show of force

A B-1 bomber prepares to take off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on a mission near North Korea. (Staff Sgt. Joshua Smoot / U.S. Air Force)
A B-1 bomber prepares to take off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on a mission near North Korea. (Staff Sgt. Joshua Smoot / U.S. Air Force)

American bomber and fighter jets flew along North Korea's eastern coastline Saturday in a "show of force" that was closer to the rogue nation's border than any other mission this century, the Pentagon reported.

The rare predawn flight came amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington and follows a North Korean threat to detonate a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. 

Dana White, chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement Saturday that U.S. B-1 bomber and F-15 fighter jets launched from airfields in the region and flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea. 

"This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat," White said. "North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community."

The Pentagon issued several photos of the sleek fighter and bomber jets streaking across the darkened sky toward the Korean Peninsula.

While the U.S. military routinely conducts such missions in response to North Korean missile and nuclear tests, this flight was the "farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft [has] flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century, underscoring the seriousness with which we take [North Korea's] reckless behavior," White said.

The Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land on the Korean Peninsula that separates North and South Korea. It is frequently the scene of military exercises when tensions rise, as has been the case since President Trump took office.

After the military flights Saturday, North Korea's foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, spoke to the United Nation General Assembly in New York  and called Trump "a mentally deranged person full of megalomania" who is holding "the nuclear button." 

Ri's comments further escalated a the war of words instigated this week when Trump described North Korean leader  Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” on “a suicide mission."

Trump also used his first address to the United Nations n to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea.

The inflammatory statements were not in a draft of the speech that several senior officials had earlier reviewed and vetted, The Times reported.

Kim lashed back at Trump in a rare personal statement Thursday, calling Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and a “gangster” who had to be tamed “with fire.”

The same day, Trump announced new U.S. sanctions against other countries, foreign businesses and individuals that do business with North Korea, a move likely to primarily affect China, Pyongyang’s largest trading partner.

The sanctions were in response to North Korea's underground test this month of what was believed to be a hydrogen bomb and the nation's continued ballistic missile tests, several of which have involved missiles fired over northern Japan.

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