South joint drills begin amid North Korea tensions

South joint drills begin amid North Korea tensions

South joint drills begin amid North Korea tensions

He said the exercises are held regularly because of repeated provocations by the North, including two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.

As expected, Pyongyang responded harshly to the drills.

Observers have warned that the war games, the first major exercises since North Korea test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month (July) that appeared to bring much of the USA within range, could be another flashpoint in the crisis.

The U.S. rejects this outright, and scaling down the drills now would make President Donald Trump look weak so soon after his warnings of "fire and fury".

The annual drills are viewed by nuclear-armed Pyongyang as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion, and it always meets them with threats of strong military counteraction.

"This is aimed to ignite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula at any cost", the North's KCNA news agency said.

But US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday the smaller troop numbers were "by design to achieve the exercise objectives", denying suggestions Washington had cut them back to try to ease tensions with Pyongyang.

About 17,500 United States service members are participating in the exercise this month, down from 25,000 a year ago, according to the Pentagon.

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Formal talks on North Korea's nuclear program collapsed in 2009, and the USA has resisted restarting them until Kim demonstrates a commitment to denuclearization and halts tests of missiles and nuclear devices.

"If South Korea really wants no war on the Korean Peninsula, it should try to stop this military exercise". Shortly after last year's exercises, for example, North Korea conducted its second nuclear missile test in nine months.

"There is no such thing as a surgical strike against North Korea", Bruce Bennett, a North Korea expert at the RAND Corporation, said in one of its recent publications.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise will conclude on August 31.

But US military and Trump administration officials said the 10-day military exercises set to begin Monday, would go ahead as scheduled.

Kim would "watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees", a North Korean statement said last week.

These annual war games, in addition to the combined ground, air, naval field exercise that occur in the Spring, are needed, say military leaders, to train the constant influx of new soldiers being deployed in the field.

Moon, who took office in May, announced on his 100th day in office that US and South Korean policies are aligned on North Korea. In exchange for their suspension, China has suggested that North Korea should freeze its nuclear program.