Us, south korea begin military drill amid north korean war threats
South Korea and the United States on Monday began their
annual extensive joint military exercises. That has prompted a renewed war
threat by North Korea.
More than 12,000 members of the U.S. military are
joining 200,000 South Korean service members for the maneuvers.
North Korea warns the drills could lead to war.
South Korean media report that exercise scenarios this year include
tracing weapons of mass destruction and coping with a sudden regime
change in Pyongyang.
Retired U.S. Army General John Wickham, who commanded American
forces here, says it is not surprising that such a contingency has become
part of the long-standing joint exercise.
"That's an important thing to be concerned about, given the uncertainty
of food problems and the transition of leadership. It would be
foolhardy if the South Korean authorities and the Combined Forces
authorities weren't planning for the potential of something like that.
I'm sure the Chinese are concerned about that, too," said Wickham.
The United States says the drills are defensive in nature and that
it informed North Korea in advance about the exercises.
There are two parts to the drill. A command post
computer simulation war game called Key Resolve is scheduled to continue
until March 10. Air, ground and naval forces are taking part in
maneuvers code-named "Foal Eagle". They are expected to run through the end of
South Korean media report that the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald
Reagan will participate. U.S. military sources say an announcement is
expected to be made by the end of this week on which navy ships will take part in "Foal Eagle".
North Korea’s army on Sunday said the U.S.-South Korea drills are aimed
at removing the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal and destroying the
country. It warned that provoking Pyongyang through the exercises would
lead to "all-out war," with the South Korean capital being turned into
"a sea of fire."
General Wickham says he has heard similar rhetoric before and that he
is not overly concerned. "I think this is more saber rattling to see how far they can push the
envelope of tension and fear," he said.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry denies a Yonhap news agency report
quoting the Joints Chiefs of Staff here as saying the country’s military
alert status for maritime and land borders has been raised to cope
with any provocations from the North.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula soared to their highest level in
decades last year. North Korea was blamed for sinking a South Korean
naval warship in the Yellow Sea. Forty-six South Korean sailors died in the incident.
In the same waters, North Korea shelled Frontier island where
the South was conducting a military drill. Four people died on
Yeongpyeong Island during that incident.
North Korea on Sunday also threatened to fire again into the South if
a propaganda balloon campaign is not halted.
Two-and-a-half million leaflets were floated into the North earlier this month. The balloons carried messages ridiculing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and
calling for people to rise against the communist government. The
balloons also carried news of the Middle East uprisings.
Governing Grand National Party lawmaker Shin Ji-ho, who took part in a
recent balloon launch near the Demilitarized Zone says that regardless of
what North Korea says, South Korea will continue to send balloons over the border.