The U.S. and South Korea began annual military exercises today, two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised the army unit responsible for killing four South Koreans in 2010.
A total of 33,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and other bases will participate in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that run until Aug. 31, the United Nations Combined Forces Command said in an e-mailed statement. North Korea was informed of the training’s “non-provocative nature,” according to the statement, which didn’t give South Korean troop numbers.
North Korea routinely vows retaliation against the drills, saying they provoke conflict in the region. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un toured military units on western border islands and told them to prepare for “sacred war” should “even a single shell” hit the country’s territory, the official Korean Central News Agency said Aug. 18.
The islands Kim toured included the one closest to South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, which North Korea shelled in November 2010, killing two South Korean soldiers and two civilians.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the drills “a military expression of the U.S. hostile policy” that justifies the regime’s decision to bolster its nuclear war deterrent, KCNA said today. The North detonated atomic devices in 2006 and 2009 and is capable of testing another in as little as two weeks, according to an analysis of recent satellite photos published this month by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
South Korea today also began an annual four-day exercise starting today to rehearse government contingency plans for national emergencies. About 410,000 bureaucrats in 3,500 public offices will participate, according to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.