US, South Korea launch largest military drills in years amid tensions with North
The United States and South Korea on Monday kicked off their largest joint military exercise in five years, drills that were put on pause during the Trump administration in an attempt to sway North Korea toward nuclear disarmament.
The war games, now known as Ulchi Freedom Shield, are set to run until Sept. 1 and are the largest-scale exercises between Washington and Seoul since 2017.
Neither side has released details of the drills, but past versions of the exercise have involved tens of thousands of troops as well as aircraft, tanks and warships.
In a joint statement, the two militaries said the drills would “bolster combined readiness” and were a response to an “increased volume and scale of [North Korean] missile tests” in the past year.
Ulchi Freedom Shield is one of two major exercises that used to be held annually between South Korea and the United States, which bases about 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula.
In 2018, then-President Trump halted the drills after he sought to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to denuclearize his country at an in-person summit. North Korea has often claimed that the U.S.-South Korea military exercises are a rehearsal for an invasion.
The regular drills were either canceled or downsized to computer simulations to coax diplomatic concessions from North Korea, a mission that largely failed.
After talks between Trump and Kim collapsed in early 2019, the North redoubled its efforts to build its nuclear arsenal.
Then, when South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May, he vowed to “normalize” the joint war games and “step up” the two sides’ military training to deter North Korea from hostile actions. including nuclear tests and missile launches.
The drills are likely to draw fresh ire from North Korea, which fired two cruise missiles last week after the U.S. and South Korea began preliminary training for the operation.
Pyongyang has regularly conducted missile tests in the past year, including more than 30 ballistic missile launches, and U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials have all warned that the North is seeking to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.