The US and South Korea yesterday announced plans for major annual joint military exercises as regional tensions run high following North Korea’s third nuclear test.
A joint air, ground and naval field training exercise known as Foal Eagle will be held from March 1 to April 30. Separately, US and South Korean troops will stage a computer-simulated drill named Key Resolve from March 11 to 21.
Pyongyang habitually denounces the joint drills as a rehearsal for invasion. Seoul and Washington insist the maneuvers are defensive in nature.
“The exercises are designed to enhance the security and readiness of [South Korea] and are deterrent in nature,” they said in a statement.
Foal Eagle will include about 10,000 US forces along with a far bigger number of South Korean troops. Key Resolve involves about 3,500 US and 10,000 South Korean soldiers.
The US has based troops in the South since the 1950-1953 Korean War and the force currently numbers 28,500.
South Korea has staged a series of military drills separately or jointly with the US since the North launched a long-range rocket in December.
Earlier this month Seoul and Washington conducted a joint naval exercise with a US nuclear submarine off South Korea’s east coast, followed by a joint air force drill.
Pyongyang insists the December launch put a satellite into orbit for peaceful research, but critics said it amounted to a banned ballistic missile test that marked a major advance for the communist state’s nuclear weapons program.
Tension grew further on the Korean Peninsula following the North’s nuclear test on Feb. 12.
Yesterday, North Korea said the third nuclear test had bolstered its defenses against a “hostile” US, adding that countries that had bowed to US pressure to abandon their nuclear plans had suffered “tragic consequences.”
Libya abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 in a bid to mend relations with the US and later saw its leader Muammar Qaddafi overthrown in an uprising that was eventually supported militarily by Washington.
In an apparent reference to Libya, North Korea said it never backed down.
“The tragic consequences in those countries which abandoned halfway their nuclear programs ... clearly prove that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] was very far-sighted and just when it made the [nuclear] option,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency said.
North Korea has told China, its sole major ally, that it plans to stage more nuclear tests, according to a source with close connections to the top leadership in both countries.