US stealth jets arrive in South Korea for combat exercises

SOUTH KOREA (CNN) — Tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated over the weekend as US stealth fighters moved into the region and official sources from both North Korea and the US said the chances of war are growing.

The bellicose rhetoric from North Korea came in two phases: On Saturday, a statement from its Foreign Ministry said US President Donald Trump is “begging for a nuclear war” through what it called an “extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean Peninsula.”

Then on Sunday, a commentary from Pyongyang’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, said US-South Korea joint air exercises scheduled for Monday to Friday are a “dangerous provocation” pushing the region “to the brink of a nuclear war.”

From the US side, White House national security adviser HR McMaster told a conference in California on Saturday that the chances for war on the Korean Peninsula grow daily.

“I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem,” McMaster told an audience at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley.

McMaster made the comment when asked if North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile Tuesday had increased the chance of war.

“There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he’s getting closer and closer, and there’s not much time left,” McMaster said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

With every missile launch or nuclear test, Kim has improved his country’s capabilities, McMaster said.

Meanwhile, South Korean media showed six US Air Force F-22 Raptors, Washington’s top-of-the-line stealth fighters, arrived in South Korea on Saturday to participate in the Vigilant Ace 18 air combat exercises, an annual US-South Korea drill the US Air Force says is designed to boost the “combat effectiveness” of the alliance.

Some 230 aircraft and 12,000 personnel from the US and South Korea are participating in the weeklong exercises, according to a US Air Force statement.

A South Korean defense official confirmed to CNN on Sunday that the US is sending dozens of high-end fighters, bombers and support aircraft to the drills.

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