SEOUL, South Korea: The United States and South Korea Monday began their largest combined military training in years as they strengthen their defensive posture against the growing North Korean nuclear threat.
The drills could draw an angry response from North Korea, which has pushed its weapons testing activity to a record pace this year while repeatedly threatening clashes with Seoul and Washington in a protracted diplomatic standoff.
The Ulchi Freedom Shield Exercises will continue until September 1 in South Korea and will include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
While Washington and Seoul describe their drills as defensive, North Korea describes them as invasion rehearsals that justify its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
Cho Joong-hoon, spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the South did not immediately detect any unusual activity or signs from the North.
The United States and South Korea have canceled some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations in recent years to create space for diplomacy with North Korea and due to COVID concerns. -19.
Ulchi Freedom Shield, which began with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, would include mock joint attacks, frontline reinforcements with weapons and fuel, 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 swap denuclearization measures and economic benefits, accusing Seoul of recycling proposals that Pyongyang has long rejected. .
Kim Yo Jong, the increasingly powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, called Yoon’s proposal stupid and stressed that the North has no intention of trading away an arsenal that her brother apparently considers his own. best guarantee of survival.
She harshly criticized Yoon for continuing military exercises with the United States and also for Seoul’s failure to stop South Korean civilian activists from flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other ‘dirty rubbish’. across the border in a balloon.
She also ridiculed the North’s US-South Korean missile activity monitoring capabilities, insisting that Seoul had misidentified the launch location for the North’s latest missile tests last Wednesday, hours before Yoon at a press conference urges Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.
Earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong warned of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea over a recent North Korean outbreak of COVID-19, which Pyongyang says was caused by leaflets and other objects thrown by militants from the South. There are fears the threat portends a provocation that could include a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes, and that the North could try to escalate tensions around Allied drills.
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 United States and South Korea would face “unprecedented” security problems if they did not 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 2022 missile testing, which involved more than 30 ballistic launches, including the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations in nearly five years.
North Korea’s intensive testing activity underscores its dual intent of advancing its arsenal and forcing the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power so that it can negotiate economic concessions and security in a position of strength, according to experts.
Kim Jong Un could raise the bar as soon as there are indications that the North is preparing to carry out its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit its ICBMs.

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