SKorean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to North Korean threats

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US soldiers participate in a joint military drill with South Korea in Paju, South Korea, on March 16, 2023. (AP)

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb 28, (AP): South Korean and US troops will begin their expanded annual military drills next week in response to North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats, the two countries said Wednesday, a move that will likely enrage North Korea because it views its rivals’ joint training as an invasion rehearsal.
In recent months, North Korea has inflamed animosities on the Korean Peninsula with fiery rhetoric and continued missile tests. While it’s unlikely for North Korea to launch full-blown attacks against South Korea and the US, observers say the North could still stage limited provocations along the tense border with South Korea.
On Wednesday, the South Korea and US militaries jointly announced that the allies will conduct Freedom Shield exercise, a computer-simulated command post training, and a variety of separate field training, from March 4-14.
Col. Lee Sung-Jun, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the allies’ drills are designed to bolster their joint capabilities to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear weapons. He said the allies are to carry out 48 field exercises this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that this year’s drills would involve air assault, live-firing and bombing training.
“Our military is ready to punish North Korea immediately, strongly and to the end in the event of its provocation, and we’ll further strengthen our firm readiness through the upcoming drills,” Lee said.
Col. Isaac L. Taylor, a spokesperson for the US military, said the allies’ exercises have been defensive in nature and that there is solid evidence that “a high readiness rate” helps ensure deterrence.
North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the drills’ announcement. North Korea has reacted to previous major South Korea-US military drills with its own missile tests.
North Korea has sharply intensified its weapons testing activities since 2022 in part of its efforts to expand its nuclear and missile arsenals. This year, the North already conducted six rounds of missile tests – five of them reportedly involving cruise missiles – and other weapons launches.

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