US, South Korea plan ‘largest-ever’ live-fire drills in June

Tribune Content Agency

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea plans to hold its “largest-ever” live-fire drills with the U.S. in a move certain to anger North Korea, which has ramped up its provocations to new levels in response to recent military exercises.

The joint drills, which will involve mobilizing high-tech military equipment, are planned for June as part of a program to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance between South Korea and the U.S., South Korea’s defense ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

“The program is designed to showcase the ability of the two nations to materialize peace through strength via action, amid stern security situations arising from North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the statement said.

South Korea and the U.S. this week are winding down one of their largest joint training drills in years. North Korea has responded with threats to turn the Pacific Ocean into a firing range and shot off weapons that included a missile designed to strike the U.S. with a nuclear bomb, new missiles to hit U.S. military bases in South Korea and a test of a mock nuclear warhead affixed to a missile.

The joint drills had been scaled down or halted under former President Donald Trump, who was hoping the move would facilitate his nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Those talks led to no concrete steps to wind down Kim’s nuclear arsenal, which only grew larger as the talks sputtered.

The live-fire drills are also expected to draw attention from neighboring countries, including China. The country’s Foreign Ministry has said Beijing has been watching the situation on the Korean Peninsula with concern — and blamed the U.S. for stoking tensions.

North Korea, which has fired 13 ballistic missiles since Feb. 18, has for years called joint drills a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war. The US and South Korea in January announced plans to step up the scale of their joint military exercises. Japan, which North Korea regards as mortal enemy, has also joined some of the drills in recent months.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol went to Japan last week for a summit with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to repair ties and improve security cooperation between the two countries — a move aligning with the Biden administration’s strategy in the region for countering security threats from the likes of North Korea and China.