South Korea, US Begin Military Drills Amid North Korea Backlash

Officials said that South Korea and the US began annual joint military exercises on Monday, resuming field training, as allies sought to increase preparations for a possible weapons test by North Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Se-yeol, who took office in May, has vowed to normalise and strengthen deterrence against North Korea. The summer drill, renamed Ulchi Freedom Shield this year, is scheduled to end on September 1.

The drills, which Pyongyang called a rehearsal for an invasion, have been scaled back in recent years due to COVID-19 and Yin’s predecessor’s attempts to restart talks with Pyongyang. North Korea fired two cruise missiles from the west coast city of Onchon last week after South Korea and the US began preliminary training for the exercise.

North Korea has conducted an unprecedented rate of missile tests this year and is poised to launch a seventh nuclear test at any time, officials in Seoul said.

Yoon has said his government is willing to provide financial assistance if Pyongyang takes steps to denuclearise, but North Korea has rejected his offer, publicly criticising him. Seoul’s Defence Ministry said the allies would conduct 11 field training programs this summer, including a brigade-level training program involving thousands of soldiers.

To counter North Korea’s growing missile threat to the South Korean capital, the ministry said it would improve missile detection capabilities and push for the early deployment of new interceptor systems.

The US, South Korea and Japan recently participated in a ballistic missile defence exercise off the coast of Hawaii, the first such exercise since relations between Seoul and Tokyo reached multi-year lows in 2017.

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