Largest-ever joint military exercises beginSouth Korea and the United States are kicking off their largest-ever annual military exercises today to warn North Korea against further provocation, after Pyongyang’s nuclear threats and the UN Security Council’s new, tougher sanctions against the North.
The joint military drills - Key Resolve and Foal Eagle - which involve 300,000 South Korean and 15,000 American troops along with powerful U.S. military assets, are the largest in scale since 2010, when the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo attack, a South Korean military official said Sunday.
Since the isolated country conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a long-range missile test on Feb. 7, Washington has sent its key military assets to strengthen deterrence, including the nuclear aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, the assault landing ship USS Bonhomme Richard, the nuclear-powered submarine USS North Carolina, F-22 Raptors and nuclear-capable B-2 bombers.
For the first time, Seoul and Washington will implement in the Key Resolve exercise their new military strategy operation plan, Oplan 5015, which aims to deter North Korea’s possible use of weapons of mass destruction by preemptive attack.
The Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle exercise will continue through the end of April.
In addition, the Ssangyong exercise, which runs from today to March 18, is the largest since 2012. A total of 10,000 troops are taking part in the drill, with 3,000 from the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. Of the 7,000 participating American troops, 4,500 came from the United States in addition to those based in Okinawa, and five maritime prepositioning ships have joined the drill.
The plan for the exercises and military assets deployed so far show that the two allies are training for an amphibious landing operation that would be able to thwart North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles without being exposed to the North, minimizing the damage that would follow a preemptive attack.
The maritime prepositioning ship squadron, which will join the Ssangyong exercise, is capable of being sent secretly and immediately to anywhere in the world. And it is expected to bring synergy by carrying out a landing operation along with stealth bombers.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have escalated as the North has continued threatening a nuclear attack against the South and the U.S., claiming its nuclear warheads are ready for firing “at any moment.”
On Sunday, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s Workers’ Party, said it has “state-of-the-art weapons that no country in the world has previously possessed and that can bombard the U.S.” It added the nuclear weapons are ready to be deployed.
South Korean government officials said they are trying to understand whether the North has a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be deployed. However, military experts have expressed doubt that the North has the skill to fire a long-range missile with a miniaturized warhead.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was quoted as saying, “Now is the time for us to convert all our military countermeasure methods toward the enemies in a preemptive attack,” by the North’s official state media.
The young leader’s remarks ordering nuclear warheads to be readied for firing “at any moment” are in direct defiance to the UN Security Council’s resolution imposing harsh sanctions to curtail the North’s abilities to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency called the UN resolution “unprecedented and gangster-like” and reiterated its intent to further advance its nuclear capabilities.
BY KIM SO-HEE, CHAE IN-TAEK [email@example.com]