SEOUL: The South Korean and US forces were scheduled to conduct large live-fire drills along the border with North Korea on Thursday, despite the North’s warning that such a hostile invasion rehearsal on its doorstep will not be tolerated.

Thursday’s drills, the first of five rounds of firing exercises between the allies until mid-June, commemorate the 70th anniversary of the formation of the military alliance between Seoul and Washington. North Korea has traditionally responded to big South Korean-US exercises by conducting missile and other weapons tests.
North Korea has tested over 100 missiles since the beginning of 2022, but none since mid-April, when it shot a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea has claimed that its frenetic pace of tests is in response to increased military drills between the US and South Korea, but many say the North’s goal is to progress its weapons development before wresting bigger concessions from its adversaries in future diplomacy.

The exercises, dubbed “the combined annihilation firepower drills,” would be the largest of their kind. According to the South Korean Defense Ministry, the drills have been held 11 times since 1977.

The drills this year will feature modern stealth fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks, and multiple rocket launch systems from South Korea and the United States, according to ministry officials. The number of troops participating in the maneuvers was not immediately available, but earlier exercises in 2017 — the most recent ones before this year — gathered roughly 2,000 soldiers and 250 weaponry assets from both countries.

According to a previous Defense Ministry statement, the drills are intended to improve the allies’ joint operational performance capabilities. It stated that South Korea and the US will work to develop “overwhelming deterrence and response capabilities” to deal with North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

North Korea’s state media described the drills last Friday as “a typical North Korea-targeted war rehearsal.” It stated that North Korea “cannot but take a more serious note of the fact that” the drills would take place just a few kilometers (miles) from its border.

The US and South Korea, according to KCNA, will face unspecified “corresponding responses” to their series of large-scale, provocative drills.

The South Korean and US forces conducted their largest field drills in five years earlier this year. The US also sent the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bombers to South Korea for joint exercises.
According to Moon Seong Mook, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, the South Korea-US drills could be used as a pretext for North Korea to begin testing activities in order to achieve its declared objective of updating its WMD arsenals. Domestic considerations, such as North Korea’s effort to enhance agricultural production during the rice planting season, he said, might potentially influence the country’s choice on nuclear tests.

“North Korea can’t help but feel some burdens over the South Korea-US joint firepower drills, which are being held for the first time in six years and in the strongest possible manner,” Moon said. He stated that North Korea may conduct tests of a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or short-range ballistic weapons.

Last month, US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol announced steps to strengthen their deterrence capabilities, including the docking of US nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea on a regular basis, increased joint training exercises, and the formation of a new nuclear consultative group. Biden also stated unequivocally that any North Korean nuclear attack on the United States or its allies would “result in the end of whatever regime” committed such action.

Kim Yo Jong, North Korea’s influential sister, later stated that the Biden-Yoon summit deal demonstrated the two countries’ “most hostile and aggressive will of action” against the North. She warned to buttress her country’s escalating nuclear program, stating, “The pipe dream of the US and South Korea will henceforth be faced with the entity of more powerful strength.”

Concerns over North Korea’s nuclear development rose after the North passed legislation last year authorizing the use of nuclear weapons in self-defense. Many foreign experts believe North Korea does not yet have operational nuclear missiles.



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