US and South Korea Hold Biggest Military Drills in Years: NPR

South Korean army K-9 self-propelled howitzers take position in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Monday, August 22, 2022.

Ahn Young-joon/AP

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Ahn Young-joon/AP

South Korean army K-9 self-propelled howitzers take position in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Monday, August 22, 2022.

Ahn Young-joon/AP

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea began their largest combined military training in years on Monday as they bolster their defense posture against the growing North Korean nuclear threat.

The drills could draw an angry response from North Korea, which has ramped up its weapons testing activity to a record pace this year while repeatedly threatening clashes with Seoul and Washington amid a protracted diplomatic standoff.

The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will continue until 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 drills as defensive, North Korea describes them as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Ulchi Freedom Shield, which began with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, would include drills simulating joint attacks, frontline reinforcements with weapons and fuel, and withdrawals of weapons of mass destruction.

Allies will also train in drone attacks and other new developments in warfare shown during Russia’s war against Ukraine and practice joint military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and major industrial facilities such as semiconductor factories.

In recent years, the United States and South Korea had canceled some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations to create space for the Trump administration’s diplomacy with Korea. North and due to COVID-19 concerns.

Tensions have risen since the failed second meeting between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in early 2019. The Americans then rejected North Korean demands for a major lifting of crippling sanctions led by the United States in exchange for the dismantling of an aging nuclear power plant. complex, which would have represented a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities. Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” US pressure.

The South Korean military did not reveal the number of South Korean and American soldiers participating in Ulchi Freedom Shield, but described the training as a message of strength. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said last week that Ulchi Freedom Shield is “standardizing” large-scale training and field exercises among allies to help strengthen their alliance and bolster their defense posture against evolving of the North Korean threat.

Before being suspended or reduced, the United States and South Korea held major joint exercises each spring and summer in South Korea.

Spring drills included live-fire exercises involving a wide range of land, air, and sea assets and typically involved around 10,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 Koreans. Tens of thousands of Allied soldiers took part in the summer exercises, which consisted mainly of computer simulations to refine joint decision-making and planning, although the South Korean military has emphasized reviving field training this year.

The drills follow North Korea’s rejection last week of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s ‘bold’ offer of economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization measures, accusing Seoul of recycling proposals that Pyongyang has long rejected .

Kim Yo Jong, the increasingly powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, called Yoon’s proposal stupid and stressed that the North had no intention of giving away an arsenal that her brother clearly sees as his own. best guarantee of survival.

She harshly criticized Yoon for pursuing military exercises with the United States and also for letting South Korean civilian activists fly anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty trash” across the border in a balloon. .

She also ridiculed US-South Korean military capabilities to monitor North missile activity, insisting that the South misinterpreted the launch site of the North’s latest missile tests on Wednesday last week, hours before Yoon used a press conference to urge Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.

Kim Yo Jong’s statement came a week after she warned of ‘deadly’ retaliation against South Korea over a recent North Korean outbreak of COVID-19, which Pyongyang said was caused by leaflets and other objects thrown by southern activists. There are fears the threat portends a provocation that could include a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes, and that the North could try to escalate tensions around Allied drills.

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 problems if they did not abandon their hostile military pressure. campaign against North Korea, including joint military exercises.

Last week’s launches of two suspected cruise missiles extended a record pace in North Korea’s 2022 missile testing, which involved more than 30 ballistic launches, including the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations in nearly five years.

North Korea’s intensive testing activity underscores its dual intent of advancing its arsenal and forcing the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power so that it can negotiate economic concessions and security in a position of strength, according to experts.

Kim Jong Un could raise the bar as soon as there are indications that the North is preparing to carry out its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit its ICBMs.


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