Korea-U.S. Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill starts upSouth Korean and U.S. forces began an annual joint exercise yesterday to test and improve their defense posture against North Korea as the communist nation stepped up hostile rhetoric against the maneuvers, military officials said.
The Ulchi Freedom Guardian runs from yesterday through Aug. 31, mobilizing some 56,000 South Korean troops and about 30,000 U.S. soldiers, including some 3,000 from the U.S. and other bases in the Pacific region, the Combined Forces Command (CFC) said in a statement.
“Ulchi Freedom Guardian is a key exercise in strengthening the readiness of Republic of Korea and U.S. forces,” said Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea. “It is based on realistic scenarios and enables us to train on our essential tasks with a ‘whole of government’ approach.”
The CFC said troops from seven United Nations Command states - Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and France - also join the simulated exercise as observers.
North Korea has long denounced these joint maneuvers, claiming they amount to a prelude to war. Seoul and Washington have countered that the exercise is defensive in nature.
In late last month, the UN Command Military Armistice Commission informed Pyongyang through its border village Panmunjom of the exercise dates and the “non-provocative nature” of the training, the CFC said.
Amid heightened tension, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid a high-profile visit to a frontline artillery unit responsible for the country’s 2010 deadly bombardment of South’s Yeonpyeong Island near the tense western sea border.
Kim extolled service members as heroes and told them never to tolerate enemy aggression.
In the event of an enemy attack, Kim said the North should lead “the battle to a sacred war for national reunification, not confining it to a local war” and “turn the west sea into a graveyard of the invaders.”
The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War halted in an armistice.