Two American B-2 Spirit stealth bombers practiced an attack on the Korean Peninsula Thursday as part of a military exercise that has sparked angry threats from North Korea. In response, reports indicated that the North Korean leader ordered the country's rocket units to be on standby to attack U.S. military bases.
The U.S. military said the planes involved in the firing drill left Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on a "long-duration, round-trip training mission."
Inert munitions were dropped on a range facility on the Jikdo islands off the western coast of South Korea before the jets returned to the continental U.S. in a single continuous flight.
B-2 Spirit bombers are capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear weapons.
In a statement, the United States Forces Korea said the mission "demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will."
Dubbed "Foal Eagle," the training exercise involves about 200,000 South Korean troops and 10,000 U.S. forces and is due to continue until the end of April.
Later on Thursday, Reuters reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the country's rocket units to be on standby to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific.
The U.S. mission comes at a time of raised tensions between North Korea, its neighbors and the U.S.
A propaganda video posted on the country’s Uriminzokkiri website in February showed New York City under attack from North Korean rockets – a scenario thought to be far outside the reach of the poverty-stricken nation.
The video, which was set to a version of the song "We Are the World," was widely lampooned in the U.S.
Another video posted in March showed an image of the U.S. Capitol building being hit by an explosion.
The U.S. military announced on March 15 that it was bolstering missile defenses in response to threats from the North, including a threat to conduct a "preemptive nuclear strike."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on March 20 that he would order military forces to attack American military installations in the Pacific and South Korea if its "enemies … make even the slightest move,” according to KCNA.
“When the drills turn into a battle, the enemies will be made to drink a bitter cup, unable to raise their heads, in the face of retaliatory blows of the strong revolutionary Paektusan army, he [Kim] said,” the same KCNA article stated in language characteristic of the state’s military-first government.
Tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula in December when the North launched a rocket test, and then again in February with the test of a nuclear bomb. The United Nations Security Council moved to impose further sanctions on the already isolated nation by a unanimous vote early in March.
On Wednesday, North Korea said it was cutting the last channel of communications with the South because war could break out at "any moment."
Reuters contributed to this report.