The United States and South Korea have kicked off their biggest joint war games in years in a show of force that is expected to further fuel tensions with North Korea.
The provocative military maneuvers — dubbed Ulchi Freedom Shield — started on Monday and are due to conclude on September 1, officials said.
It came after South Korea’s newly-elected president Yoon Suk-yeol vowed to “normalize” the combined war games aimed at boosting “deterrence” against North Korea, which regards the drills as a rehearsal for invasion, carrying out a series of weapons tests in response.
South Korean defense ministry announced that the two allies would stage 11 field training programs, including one at brigade level — involving thousands of troops — this summer.
The ministry further said that it would improve missile detection capabilities and push for an early deployment of a new interceptor system in attempts to better counter Pyongyang’s growing missile capabilities.
The military exercises were scaled back in recent years due to the coronavirus pandemic and amid tension-easing talks between the two rivals.
North Korea launched two cruise missiles from the west coast town of Onchon last week after the US and South Korea kicked off preliminary combat training for the war games.
Pyongyang has also conducted missile tests at an unprecedented pace this year and is gearing up to carry out its seventh nuclear test at any time, South Korean officials were cited as saying in local reports.
Yoon claimed recently that his government is willing to provide economic aid if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization. North Korea, however, snubbed the gesture and openly criticized the hawkish president.
Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, bluntly spurned Yoon’s offer of economic aid, calling the South Korean leader “simple” and “childish.”
Kim, a senior official in the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, further declared that her country would never sacrifice its nuclear weapons in return for economic assistance from the estranged neighbor.
The remarks marked the first reaction from a high-ranking North Korean official to Yoon’s “audacious plan”, which he reiterated on Wednesday at a news conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
Monday’s military maneuvers also came shortly after the US joined South Korea and Japan in taking part in a recent ballistic missile exercise off Hawaii’s coast, the first such drills since 2017 when relations between Seoul and Tokyo hit their lowest point in years.
Source: Agencies (editted by Al-Manar English Website)