North Korea slams joint US-South Korea military drills

Pyongyang accuses upcoming annual US and S. Korea military exercise of 'adding fuel to fire'

SEOUL: North Korea yesterday blasted an annual joint military exercise starting today as an act of "adding fuel to the fire" amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, reported South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's ruling party, said in an editorial that the US moves to place the worst-ever sanctions on it and launch military provocations have made the situation extremely tense.

The allies' Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise will kick off today and run till Aug 31. The UFG is an annual command-post training largely based on computer simulation.

Analysts have said all eyes will be on the war game that could send tensions spiralling back upwards after the war of words between the US and North Korea appeared to have cooled off slightly.

The 11-day exercise will be the first major exercise since North Korea test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range.

The North's reaction to the joint military exercise will be key to determining what happens next.

US top military official Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week said the US and South Korea would go ahead with joint military drills despite pressure from North Korea and its ally, China.

The Pentagon said the joint exercise would involve about 17,500 US service members, as well as troops from Australia, Canada, Colombia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Britain.

But some analysts suggested it could be another step towards de-escalating tensions that skyrocketed as North Korea and US President Donald Trump lobbed threats at each other in a war of words.

The way in which the games are conducted and advertised will send an important signal to the North, said the US military's newspaper Stars and Stripes.


Experts said the military could simultaneously deploy US supersonic bombers or aircraft carriers in a show of force if it wanted to project strength or show restraint to calm the situation.

"It will be interesting to see how high profile these exercises get," said Mr James Schoff, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Are we trying to publicise them and put some kind of military psychological pressure on (North Korea) or will we keep it low key and business like?

"The latter would suggest that we think a low-key approach might encourage (North Korea) restraint and eventually open a door to dialogue," he added in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Meanwhile, North Korea's propaganda website Uriminzokkiri said in a commentary that the US and South Korea are staging an exercise to try to wage a nuclear war around the Korean Peninsula, warning, "the North Korean army is placing the South Korean military in its crosshairs".

South Korea's new top military officer yesterday issued a stern warning to the North, saying it will face merciless retaliation for any attack, reported Yonhap. - AFP

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