US, South Korea start annual military drill amid North Korea tension


Called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the joint drills will take place from August 21 to August 31 and involve computer simulations created to prepare for the unthinkable: war with nuclear-capable North Korea.

"There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature", Moon told Cabinet ministers, while warning Pyongyang not to engage in provocations.

"North Korea will conduct a sixth nuclear test in order to bring the United States to negotiations", said Yoo Ho-yeol, professor of unification and diplomacy at Seoul's Korea University.

The top U.S. military officer is warning during a trip to Seoul that the United States is ready to use the "full range" of its military capabilities to defend itself and its allies from North Korea.

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North Korea typically responds to South Korea-U.S. military exercises with weapons tests and a string of belligerent rhetoric. President Donald Trump warned North Korea this month it would face " fire and fury " if it threatens the United States.

President Kim Jong Un's regime slammed the annual drills while also vowing vowing that Guam, Hawaii and the USA mainland could not escape a "merciless strike", CNN reported Sunday. North Korea, for its part, threatened to launch missiles toward the American territory of Guam before its leader Kim Jong Un backed off saying he would first watch how Washington acts before going ahead with the missile launch plans.

North Korea views such exercises as preparations for invasion and has fired missiles and taken other actions to coincide with the military drills in the past. In 2015, North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire at the same time as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills after the South began blasting propaganda on loudspeakers across the border.

Some 40,000 South Korean and USA troops are to participate on land, sea and air in the exercises called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian.

In a month in which President Trump and the North Korean regime have already traded nuclear threats, analysts predict the routine war games could be tenser than ever.

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"The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting", the editorial read, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

Tensions have soared in recent months over Pyongyang's weapons ambitions, which have seen it subjected to a seventh round of United Nations Security Council sanctions.

But Kazianis said he would not be surprised to see North Korea carry out its sixth nuclear test or another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test during this year's exercise.

"Kim Jong Un might make the logical decision that it's probably bad to test during a military exercise", Kazianis said.

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North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fueled a surge in tension.