The United States and South Korea on Monday began their largest combined military training exercise in years as they bolstered their defensive posture against North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
The drills could provoke an angry reaction from Pyongyang, which has pushed its weapons testing activities to a record pace this year while repeatedly threatening clashes with Seoul and Washington amid an ongoing diplomatic standoff.
Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will continue through September 1 in South Korea and will include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
While Washington and Seoul describe their exercises as defensive, North Korea presents them as invasion exercises justifying its nuclear weapons and missile development.
Cho Joong-hoon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which oversees inter-Korean affairs, said the south did not immediately detect any unusual activity or signs from the north.
The United States and South Korea had canceled some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations in recent years to make room for diplomacy with North Korea and over Covid-19 concerns.
Ulchi Freedom Shield, which began alongside a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government officials, will reportedly include simulated joint attacks, front-line weapons and fuel reinforcements, and the removal of weapons of mass destruction.
The drills came after North Korea last week rejected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s offer to swap denuclearization moves and economic benefits, and accused Seoul of making recycling proposals that Pyongyang had long rejected.
Kim Yo Jong, the increasingly powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described Mr Yoon’s proposal as foolish and stressed the North has no intention of bartering an arsenal her brother appears to regard as its strongest guarantee of survival.
She slammed Mr. Yoon for continuing military exercises with the US and also for Seoul’s failure to prevent South Korean civilian activists from ballooning anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty junk” across the border.
She also ridiculed US-South Korean capabilities to monitor the North’s missile activities and insisted Seoul misidentified the launch site of the North’s latest missile tests last Wednesday, hours before Mr Yoon told a news conference that Pyongyang should return to diplomacy.
Ms Kim earlier this month warned of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea over a recent North Korean Covid-19 outbreak that Pyongyang dubiously claims was caused by leaflets and other objects thrown in the air by southern activists.
There are concerns the threat hints at a provocation that could include a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes, and that the North may at some point seek to escalate tensions surrounding the allied drills.
https://www.independent.ie/news/south-korea-and-the-us-begin-expanded-military-drills-41927641.html South Korea and the US begin expanded military exercises