US, SKorea to Expand Military Drills 08/16 06:13
The United States and South Korea will begin their biggest combined military
training in years next week in the face of an increasingly aggressive North
Korea, which has been ramping up weapons tests and threats of nuclear conflict
against Seoul and Washington, the South Korean military said Tuesday.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The United States and South Korea will begin
their biggest combined military training in years next week in the face of an
increasingly aggressive North Korea, which has been ramping up weapons tests
and threats of nuclear conflict against Seoul and Washington, the South Korean
military said Tuesday.
The allies' summertime drills, named Ulchi Freedom Shield, will take place
from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1 in South Korea and include field exercises involving
aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
The drills underscore Washington and Seoul's commitment to restore
large-scale training after they canceled some of their regular drills and
downsized others to computer simulations in recent years to create space for
diplomacy with North Korea and because of COVID-19 concerns.
The U.S. Department of Defense also said the U.S., South Korean and Japanese
navies took part in missile warning and ballistic missile search and tracking
exercises off the coast of Hawaii from Aug. 8 to 14, which it said were aimed
at furthering three-way cooperation in the face of North Korean challenges.
While the United States and South Korea describe their exercises as
defensive, Ulchi Freedom Shield will almost surely draw an angry reaction from
North Korea, which describes all allied training as invasion rehearsals and has
used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development.
China, North Korea's main ally, expressed concern over the expansion of U.S.
military exercises with its Asian allies, saying they could worsen tensions
with the North. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin didn't offer
a specific answer when asked whether Beijing believes the trilateral drills in
Hawaii were in some way directed at China.
"North Korea has repeatedly expressed its concern" over the joint drills,
Wang said in a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
"The negative impact of the military exercises on the situation on the
Korean Peninsula is worth paying attention to. All parties should act prudently
and stop any actions that may increase tension and confrontation and damage the
mutual trust," he said.
Before being shelved or downsized, the U.S. and South Korea held major joint
exercises every spring and summer in South Korea. The spring ones had been
highlighted by live-fire drills involving a broad range of land, air and sea
assets and usually involved around 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops.
Tens of thousands of allied troops participated in the summertime drills,
which mainly consisted of computer simulations to hone joint decision making
and planning, although South Korea's military has emphasized the revival of
large-scale field training this time.
Officials at Seoul's Defense Ministry and its Joint Chiefs of Staff did not
comment on the number of U.S. and South Korean troops that will participate in
Ulchi Freedom Shield.
The drills, which will kick off along with a four-day South Korean civil
defense training program led by government employees, will reportedly include
exercises simulating joint attacks, front-line reinforcements of arms and fuel,
and removals of weapons of mass destruction.
The allies will also train for drone attacks and other new developments in
warfare shown during Russia's war on Ukraine and practice joint
military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and major
industrial facilities such as semiconductor factories.
"The biggest meaning of (Ulchi Freedom Shield) is that it normalizes the
South Korea-U.S. combined exercises and field training, (contributing) to the
rebuilding of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the combined defense posture,"
Moon Hong-sik, a Defense Ministry spokesperson, said during a briefing.
Some experts say North Korea may use the drills as an excuse to increase
North Korea has already warned of "deadly" retaliation against South Korea
over its own COVID-19 outbreak, which it dubiously claims was caused by
anti-North Korean propaganda leaflets and other objects flown across the border
by balloons launched by southern activists. There are concerns that the North
Korean threat, issued last week by the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un,
portends a provocation which might include a nuclear or missile test or even
In an interview with Associated Press Television last month, Choe Jin,
deputy director of a think tank run by North Korea's Foreign Ministry, said the
United States and South Korea would face "unprecedented" security challenges if
they don't drop their hostile military pressure campaign against North Korea,
including joint military drills.
Kim Jun-rak, spokesperson of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the
South Korean and U.S. militaries are maintaining a close watch on North Korean
military activities and facilities.
Animosity has increased on the Korean Peninsula since U.S.-North Korea
nuclear negotiations derailed in early 2019 because of differences over a
relaxation of crippling U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea in exchange for
Kim Jong Un has since declared North Korea will bolster its nuclear
deterrent in the face of "gangster-like" U.S. pressure and halted all
cooperation with South Korea. Exploiting a division in the U.N. Security
Council over Russia's war on Ukraine, North Korea has dialed up its weapons
testing to a record pace this year, conducting more than 30 ballistic launches.
They included the country's first intercontinental ballistic missiles since
2017 and tests of tactical systems designed to be armed with small battlefield
Kim has punctuated the testing binge with repeated warnings that North Korea
will proactively use its nuclear weapons in conflicts with South Korea and the
United States, which experts say indicate an escalation in its nuclear doctrine
that could cause greater concern for its neighbors.
South Korea and U.S. officials say North Korea has been gearing up for its
first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a
thermonuclear warhead to fit on its ICBMs.