SEOUL: Tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops kicked off a large-scale military exercise Monday simulating an all-out attack by North Korea, which has condemned the joint drill as a “declaration of war.”
The annual Ulchi Freedom exercise, which the defense ministry said would run through August 28, is largely computer-simulated, but still involves 50,000 Korean and 30,000 US soldiers.
The drill plays out a full-scale invasion scenario by nuclear-armed North Korea and both Seoul and Washington insist it remains purely defensive in nature.
Pyongyang views Ulchi Freedom — along with other annual South Korea-US drills — as willfully provocative and has threatened the “strongest military counter-action” should this year’s exercise go ahead.
“Such large-scale joint military exercises… are little short of a declaration of a war,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which oversees cross-border issues, said last week.
The committee specifically warned of the drill’s potential for an accidental military clash that could trigger an “all-out” conflict.
Military tensions are already running high along the Korean peninsula after South Korea blamed the North for mine blasts that maimed members of a border patrol earlier this month.
The South retaliated by resuming high-decibel propaganda broadcasts across the border, using batteries of loudspeakers that had lain silent for more than a decade.
Threats of retaliation
North Korea has denied any involvement and, at the weekend, threatened “indiscriminate” strikes against South Korean border units unless the broadcasts are halted immediately.
According to the South’s defense ministry, this year’s Ulchi Freedom drill will place a particular emphasis on reconnaissance and intelligence assets to strengthen monitoring of the heavily militarized frontier.
The rising tensions were expected to top the agenda of a National Security Council convened and chaired Monday morning by President Park Geun-Hye.