South Korea and US kick off annual exercise with 70,000 troops
South Korea and the U.S. began a massive annual military exercise Monday, ignoring repeated threats by rival North Korea.
The drill, called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, will include 70,000 troops from the U.S. and South Korea.
North Korea routinely condemns such activities as invasion preparations, and recently cautioned of a “catastrophe” if the allies were to go ahead with this month’s exercise.
According to a press statement from Seoul’s Defense Ministry, the drill is a “computer simulated defensive exercise designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability.”
This time, while the U.S. has included fewer servicemen than last year and withheld any military assets which standout, it has also dispatched three senior military commanders to participate in the drill.
Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un suspended a plan to fire ballistic missiles close to American forces based on the Pacific island of Guam.
Amid fears of a possible provocation by Pyongyang in response to the exercise, which will run until the end of August, South Korean President Moon Jae-in insisted the North should not be seeking “a pretext for aggravating the situation”.
“North Korea must understand that it is because of its repeated provocations that South Korea and the U.S. have to conduct defensive exercises, which in turn keeps the vicious cycle going," Moon was quoted as saying at a Cabinet meeting on Monday by Yonhap News Agency.
The North made a point last year, by testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile and three Scud missiles, before carrying out a nuclear test within days of the drill’s conclusion.