The South Korean Ministry of Defense said on Feb. 6 that the Republic of Korea (ROK) Armed Forces responded to the threat with "unspecified measures." It later concluded that the said balloon did not pose a threat.
An unnamed military official told the Yonhap news agency and Korean media outlet KBS that a front-line unit spotted the balloon via a thermal monitoring device at 6:30 p.m. local time on Feb. 5. The two-meter-long balloon had been flying at a low altitude when it was spotted at Yeonchon in Gyeonggi province, located near the border of the two Koreas.
The official said the balloon left South Korea's airspace after several hours, adding that ROK Armed Forces did not do any military actions after it was identified as a weather balloon. Meanwhile, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) – the hermit kingdom's official mouthpiece – did not issue a statement regarding the incident.
The incident happened just days after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as it drifted toward the Atlantic Ocean. A fighter jet from the U.S. Air Force shot down the balloon over the waters of North Carolina following initial hesitation by the Biden administration. Beijing did not take too kindly to Washington's decision to shoot down the balloon, promising "repercussions." (Related:
According to a Reuters report, Seoul had been victimized by intrusions from Pyongyang in December. Five North Korean drones crossed the demarcation line between the two nations on Dec. 26, with one drone briefly entering the no-fly zone around the Blue House – the office of the South Korean president.
The said drones, which flew over South Korea for hours before leaving, prompted a mobilization of the ROK Air Force's fighter jets and helicopters. The military was criticized for failing to bring down the drones, however.
On Feb. 6, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un presided over the meeting of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Workers' Party of Korea. According to a KCNA report, this meeting focused on "major military and political tasks" for 2023. Moreover, the CMC discussed "the issue of constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills of the Korean People's Army (KPA) to cope with the prevailing situation and more strictly perfecting the preparedness for war."
Pyongyang convened the meeting after it vowed to counter the U.S. military with the "most overwhelming nuclear force." Its vow followed a pledge by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to deploy more military assets to defend South Korea.
A statement by the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs published by KCNA said the expansion of joint military drills between Washington and Seoul pushed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula to an "extreme red line." Moreover, it lamented how the exercises are turning the region into "a huge war arsenal."
It added that the KPA will retaliate against military action based on the principle of "nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation." The ministry ultimately warned that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea – North Korea's formal name – "will make clearer its deterring activities without fail … if the U.S. continues to introduce strategic assets into the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding area."
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