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US, South Korea Wrap 5-Day Joint Drills as Uncertainty on Kim Jong Un’s Health Lingers

© AP Photo / Ahn Young-joonU.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets wait to take off from a runway during a military exercise at the Osan U.S. Air Base in Osan, South Korea
U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets wait to take off from a runway during a military exercise at the Osan U.S. Air Base in Osan, South Korea - Sputnik International
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As the world speculates on North Korea’s missile launches and the health of its leader Kim Jong Un, the US and South Korea concluded a five-day joint air exercise, reigniting Washington’s shows of strength on and near the Korean Peninsula.

The joint exercise, originally postponed in November as the US called on North Korea to return to nuclear talks, wrapped up on April 24, according to South Korean Air Force officials who revealed the squadron-level drills included F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets from Seoul and Washington’s F-16s.

"This is an annual, typical combined exercise designed to improve execution of our joint operations," a South Korean Air Force official told the Yonhap News Agency. "The length and the size of the exercises are on par with those of previous years."

The resumption of the drills goes against Pyongyang’s November demand that the US either not conduct exercises with South Korea or completely halt exercises in the region altogether.

Furthermore, the US Air Force announced Wednesday that one of the 37th Bomb Squadron’s B-1B Lancers had conducted a 30-hour round-trip sortie in which it met up with aircraft from the Japan Air Self Defense Force. While the service said that the trip was a demonstration of peace, others speculate Washington was attempting to send a message to North Korea in the Pacific.

US relations with North Korea have continued to sour this year, with Pyongyang conducting a number of ballistic missile tests which have been criticized by other nations - especially those launched during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, Sputnik reported that North Korea had launched two short-range ballistic missiles that the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said traveled 410 kilometers and reached a height of 50 kilometers.

News of the US’ renewed presence and showing of strength around the Korean Peninsula comes amid speculation surrounding Kim’s health. A Monday report from CNN, which cited an unnamed US government official, described the North Korean leader as being in “grave danger” following surgery.

The allegations were fueled by the fact that Kim was noticeably absent from his grandfather’s birthday celebration on April 15.

During a Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the White House on Thursday, US President Donald Trump contended that he believes CNN’s scoop was a “fake report.”

"I think the report was done by a network that was ... incorrect. I'm hearing they used old documents ... I hope it was an incorrect report," Trump told reporters.

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