The U.S. and South Korea conducted large-scale joint military drills Monday for the first time since 2017 amid increasing threats to the region from North Korea and China.
The U.S. said the operation, titled Ulchi Freedom Shield, will simulate a U.S. and South Korean (ROK) response to an invasion from the north, a rising possibility after a five-year hiatus on joint military exercises failed to temper North Korean (DPRK) aggression, Bloomberg reported. The exercises will involve tens of thousands of troops conducting drills on land, air and sea, and will conclude on Sept. 1, according to CBS News, to strengthen deterrence against Pyongyang.
“Maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula is built on our airtight security posture,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said at a cabinet meeting Monday, Reuters reported.
North Korea has escalated verbal threats against the U.S. and South Korea in recent months and tested a record number of weapons in 2022, firing two cruise missiles on Aug. 17, AFP reported. Meanwhile, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Aug. 3 visit to Taiwan sparked a series of Chinese aerial and naval drills mimicking an invasion of the island.
“The purpose of the training will be to strengthen the ROK-U.S. Alliance, enhance our combined defense posture, and strengthen security and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Department of Defense spokesperson Martin Meiners told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The South Korean defense ministry said the drills would “normalize” cooperative defense training with the U.S. at a large scale.
The Trump administration cancelled biannual drills with South Korea and reduced others to computer simulations, an effort to avoid triggering hostility from North Korea amid the former president’s diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, CBS News reported. Tensions with the DPRK, high since the armistice that put a permanent pause to the war between the two countries, skyrocketed after a 2019 meeting between Trump and Kim to discuss lifting sanctions in exchange for complete dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear program ended in a stalemate.
“Wars today are totally different from those in the past,” Yoon said, according to CBS. He explained military drills will center around how to protect critical infrastructure, including ports, airports, nuclear power plants and semiconductor factories, from North Korean forces.
South Korean defense officials said they expected the North to conduct a nuclear test in the near future, the first since 2017, according to Reuters.
Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in also hoped to advance diplomatic reconciliation with the DPRK and supported downsizing the exercises, according to Bloomberg.
North Korea has called the drills an “unpardonable provocation” and threatened to retaliate with “nuclear deterrence” and “sacred war.”
#RIMPAC2022 Impact @USArmy and 🇰🇷 South Korean special operations service members conduct helocast operations during @RimofthePacific, the world's largest international maritime exercise, in Hawaii. pic.twitter.com/SPStkpihWF
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) July 28, 2022
The U.S., South Korea and Japan concluded joint exercises in Hawaii earlier in August, also the first of their kind since 2017, amid a backdrop of military drills and threats of war from China and North Korea, Reuters reported.
Japan may place up to 1,000 long-range missiles in locations where they will be capable of reaching Chinese and North Korean targets, Reuters reported Sunday.
Russian state media is reporting that China announced new military drills in the East China Sea, bordering the southern peninsulas of both South Korea and Japan, to begin Wednesday.
The ROK Embassy to the U.S. did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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