US, South Korea begin biggest joint military drills since 2018

The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will run from August 22 to September 1



Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

By AFP

Published: Mon 22 Aug 2022, 6:36 AM

The United States and South Korea began their biggest combined military drills since 2018 on Monday, Seoul said — a move likely to anger North Korea, which has been ramping up its nuclear threats.

Washington is Seoul's key security ally, and stations about 28,500 of its troops in South Korea to protect it from its nuclear-armed neighbour.

The two countries have long carried out joint exercises, which they insist are purely defensive. However, North Korea continues to perceive these as potential threats.

The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise marks the resumption of large-scale training sessions after they were scaled back due to Covid-19, as well as a bout of failed diplomacy with Pyongyang.

"The significance of this joint exercise is rebuilding the South Korea-US alliance and solidifying the combined defence posture by normalising ... combined exercises and field training," the defence ministry said.

Details of the drills that run from August 22 to September 1 have not been released, but they usually include field exercises involving aircraft, warships and tanks — and tens of thousands of troops.

During a meeting last week, the allies agreed to "expanding the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training", noting the increased volume of North Korean missile tests.

This will start "with Ulchi Freedom Shield ... to bolster combined readiness," they said in a joint statement.

Analysts say North Korea may use the drills as a reason to conduct more weapons tests.

Earlier this month, Pyongyang warned it would "wipe out" Seoul authorities, which it blamed for a recent Covid-19 outbreak in the isolated country. That threat came less than a month after Kim Jong Un said his country was "ready to mobilise" its nuclear capability in any war with the United States and South Korea.

North Korea has conducted a blitz of sanctions-busting tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

Washington and Seoul officials have also warned that the isolated regime is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test.

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