South Korea, US Hold Drills

South Korea, US Hold Drills
South Korea, US Hold Drills

Annual military exercises have got underway involving tens of thousands of troops, amid a new threat from North Korea.

Pyongyang has threatened a preemptive nuclear strike. The “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” drills that began Monday will last for 12 days and are largely computer-simulated war games.

Around 50,000 South Korean and 30,000 US soldiers are taking part in the war games that play out a full-scale invasion scenario by nuclear-armed North Korea. Both Seoul and Washington insist the drills are purely defensive in nature, AP reported.

The joint exercises follow what the Korea Times newspaper described as the largest-ever South Korean drill on Saturday close to North Korean border, exactly a year after the North fired several artillery rounds toward a South Korean frontline military unit.

The annual drill always triggers an aggressive response from Pyongyang. This year’s, however, come just days after a senior North Korean diplomat defected to the South.

The North denounced the defector, Thae Yong Ho, as “criminal”. Pyongyang has also reacted angrily to a US plan to place a high-tech defense missile system in South Korea.

On Monday, the Korean People’s Army issued a statement, accusing South Korea and the United States of carrying out an invasion rehearsal and warned of a tough military response.

The North’s military said it would turn Seoul and Washington into “a heap of ashes through a Korean-style preemptive nuclear strike” if they show any signs of aggression toward the North’s territory.

Pyongyang’s frontline units were “fully ready to mount a preemptive retaliatory strike at all enemy attack groups involved”, said a spokesman for the KPA general staff.

Tensions remain high following the North’s fourth nuclear test in January and other recent missile launches. In response to substantially increased international sanctions, Pyongyang has shut down the two existing hotlines with South Korea and its only direct communications link with the United States.