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US, South Korea Begin Military Exercises Against North Korea – NBC New York (47)

SEOUL, South Korea—The United States and South Korea began their largest combined military training in years on Monday as they raise their defense posture against a growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

The drills could spark a response from North Korea, which has brought its weapons testing activity to a record pace this year while repeatedly threatening conflict with Seoul and Washington amid a prolonged deadlock in diplomacy.

The exercises dubbed the Ulchi Freedom Shield will continue through September 1 in South Korea and will include field exercises involving planes, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of soldiers.

While both countries describe their exercises as defensive, North Korea presents them as invasion tests that justify its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Cho Joong-hoon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the South had not immediately detected any unusual activity or signs from the North.

The US and South Korea have canceled some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations in recent years to create room for diplomacy with North Korea and due to COVID-19 concerns.

Ulchi Freedom Shield, which began in conjunction with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will include simulated joint attacks, front-line fuel and weapons reinforcements, and withdrawals of weapons of mass destruction.

The drills came after North Korea last week rejected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s offer to trade denuclearization measures and economic benefits, accusing Seoul of recycling proposals Pyongyang has long rejected.

North Korea’s new missile, 75 feet long, is believed to be the world’s largest of its range.

Kim Yo Jong, the increasingly powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described Yoon’s proposal as foolish and stressed that the North has no intention of swapping an arsenal that her brother apparently sees as its best guarantee of survival.

He harshly criticized Yoon for continuing military exercises with the US and also for Seoul’s failure to prevent South Korean civilian activists from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty rubbish” across the border by balloon.

He also ridiculed the capabilities of the US and South Korea to monitor the North’s missile activity, insisting that Seoul misidentified the launch site of the North’s latest missile tests last Wednesday, hours before Yoon told a conference of press will urge Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.

“DEADLY” REPRISALS AGAINST SOUTH KOREA

Earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong warned of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea over a recent COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea, which Pyongyang dubiously claims was caused by leaflets and other objects thrown by southern activists. There are concerns that the threat heralds a provocation that could include a missile or nuclear test or even border skirmishes, and that the North may try to escalate tensions at some point around allied exercises.

In an interview with Associated Press Television last month, Choe Jin, deputy director of a think tank run by North Korea’s foreign ministry, said the US and South Korea would face “unprecedented” security challenges if they don’t abandon their hostile military pressure. campaign against North Korea, including joint military exercises.

Last week’s launches of two suspected cruise missiles extended a record pace in North Korea’s missile tests in 2022, involving more than 30 ballistic launches, including the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations in nearly five years.

North Korea’s intense testing activity underscores its dual intent to upgrade its arsenal and force the US to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.

Kim Jong Un could up the ante as soon as there are signs that North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon for its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

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