South Korea and the United States have begun their annual joint military exercise. The North has already threatened that the war games will make matters worse in the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang warned that US would be “pouring gasoline on fire” if it went ahead with the drills.
Tens of thousands of troops are taking part in the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” joint military drills, a largely computer- simulated exercise that runs for two weeks in the South.
The US and South Korea call the war games a defensive measure, but Pyongyang views the drills as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion.
The drills come just weeks after North Korea and the US have threatened military action against each other. Tension has escalated ever since Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range.
Pyongyang threatened to fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam – a plan that leader Kim Jong-Un last week delayed, but warned could go ahead depending on Washington’s next move.
And US President Donald Trump warned that Washington could rain “fire and fury” on Pyongyang.
Allies US and South Korea have been holding these joint military exercises since 1976.
This year around 17,500 US troops will participate in the drills – a cutback from last year. US Defence Secretary James Mattis said that the cut in troop numbers was “by design to achieve the exercise objectives”. He denying suggestions Washington had cut troops to ease tensions with Pyongyang.
“This right now is an exercise to make certain that we’re ready to defend South Korea and our allies over there,” Mattis told reporters aboard an aircraft flying to Amman, Jordan.
US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris arrived in South Korea on Sunday to inspect the exercises and discuss growing North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
(With inputs from PTI)