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U.S. Dispatches B-2s to S. Korea

Stealth Bombers Drop Munitions in Drills; North Cuts Last Hotline to South

  • U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber, left, flies over near Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Lee Jung-hun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT

    U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber, left, flies over near Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Lee Jung-hun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT

  • U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber, center, flies over near the Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Shin Young-keun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT

    U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber, center, flies over near the Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Shin Young-keun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT

  • South Korean vehicles leave for a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Yonhap, Im Byung-shik) KOREA OUT

    South Korean vehicles leave for a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Yonhap, Im Byung-shik) KOREA OUT

  • South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

    South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber flies over near Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Shin Young-keun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT

    U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber flies over near Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Shin Young-keun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT

  • South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

    South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

  • U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber, left, flies over near Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Lee Jung-hun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT
  • U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber, center, flies over near the Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Shin Young-keun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT
  • South Korean vehicles leave for a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Yonhap, Im Byung-shik) KOREA OUT
  • South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
  • U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber flies over near Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. A day after shutting down a key military hotline, Pyongyang instead used indirect communications with Seoul to allow South Koreans to cross the heavily armed border and work at a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. (AP Photo/Shin Young-keun, Yonhap) KOREA OUT
  • South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex of North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Raising tensions with South Korea yet again, North Korea said it cut the last military hotline with Seoul because there was no need for communications between the countries in a situation "where a war may break out at any moment." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Seoul, South Korea — In a show of force following weeks of North Korean bluster, the U.S. yesterday took the unprecedented step of announcing that two of its nuclear-capable B-2 bombers joined joint military drills with South Korea, dropping dummy munitions on an island range.

The announcement is likely to further enrage Pyongyang, which has already issued a flood of ominous statements to highlight displeasure over the drills and U.N. sanctions over its nuclear test last month. But there were signs yesterday that it is willing to go only so far.

A North Korean plant operated with South Korean know-how was running normally, despite the North’s shutdown a day earlier of communication lines ordinarily used to move workers and goods across the border. At least for the moment, Pyongyang was choosing the factory’s infusion of hard currency over yet another provocation.

U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement that the B-2 stealth bombers flew from a U.S. air base in Missouri and dropped dummy munitions on the South Korean island range before returning home. It was unclear whether America’s stealth bombers were used in past annual drills with South Korea, but this is the first time the military has announced their use.

The statement follows an earlier U.S. announcement that nuclear-capable B-52 bombers participated in the joint military drills.

The announcement will likely draw a strong response from Pyongyang. North Korea sees the military drills as part of a U.S. plot to invade and becomes particularly upset about U.S. nuclear activities in the region. Washington and Seoul say the drills are routine and defensive.

North Korea has already threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul in recent weeks. It said Wednesday there was no need for communication in a situation “where a war may break out at any moment.” Earlier this month, it announced that it considers void the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

But Pyongyang would have gone beyond words, possibly damaging its own weak finances, if it had blocked South Koreans from getting in and out of the Kaesong industrial plant, which produced $470 million worth of goods last year.

South Korean managers at the plant reported no signs of trouble yesterday.

Analysts see a full-blown North Korean attack as extremely unlikely, though there are fears of a more localized conflict, such as a naval skirmish in disputed Yellow Sea waters. Such naval clashes have happened three times since 1999.

The Kaesong plant, just across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that separates the Koreas, normally relies on a military hotline for the governments to coordinate the movement of goods and South Korean workers.

Technically, the divided Korean Peninsula remains in a state of war. North Korea last shut down communications at Kaesong four years ago, and that time some workers were temporarily stranded.