SEOUL, Dec 4, (Agencies): The US and South Korea on Monday kicked off their largest ever joint air exercise, an operation North Korea has labelled an “allout provocation”, days after Pyongyang fired its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile.
The five-day Vigilant Ace drill — involving 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops — began Monday morning, Seoul’s air force said. Pyongyang over the weekend blasted the drill, accusing US President Donald’s Trump’s administration of “begging for nuclear war”.
The annual exercise comes five days after the nuclear-armed North test-fired a new ICBM, which it says brings the whole of the continental United States within range. As tensions surged, US Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican and foreign policy hawk, warned that the US was moving closer to “preemptive war” with the North. “If there’s an underground nuclear test (by the North), then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the United States,” Graham told the CBS show “Face the Nation”. “The preemption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely,” Graham said.
Graham urged the Pentagon to start moving US military dependents, such as spouses and children, out of South Korea, saying conflict with North Korea is getting close. “It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea given the provocation of North Korea,” Graham, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “So I want them (the Pentagon) to stop sending dependents and I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea,” Graham said. The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
This year’s US and South Korean wargames feature a number of powerful jet fighters newly mobilised for the event, including six F-22s and 18 units of F-35 combat jets, the US air force said. It also involves simulated precision attacks on the North’s military installations, including its missile launch sites and artillery units, Yonhap news agency said, citing unnamed Seoul sources. North Korea’s missile tests are an “imminent threat” to Japan, the Japanese parliament declared Monday, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said talking to the reclusive state was meaningless. The upper house unanimously adopted a resolution protesting against the North’s firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile that dropped into the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone last week.