Saturday 26 May 2018

US and South Korea launch biggest-ever joint air force exercise amid rising tensions

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

Youkyung Lee

The United States and South Korea have launched their biggest-ever combined air force exercise a week after North Korea test-fired its most powerful missile ever.

Called Vigilant Ace, the five-day drill is meant to improve the allies wartime capabilities, South Korea's defence ministry said.

The US Seventh Air Force sent major strategic military assets that include six F-22 and 18 F-35 stealth fighter jets for the annual training exercise in the Korean Peninsula and about 12,000 US military personnel are participating.

North Korea's state media said the joint drill pushes the Korean Peninsula "to the brink of nuclear war."

Such language is typical in North Korean propaganda because the country sees US-South Korean drills, which are held regularly, as preparation for invasion.

Always bad tensions are at a particularly dangerous point as North Korea edges toward its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, and president Donald Trump uses aggressive rhetoric toward the North, threatening, for instance, "fire and fury" toward the country.

Pyongyang will "seriously consider" countermeasures against the drill, and the US and South Korea will "pay dearly for their provocations," the Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday before the start of the exercises.

While many South Koreans typically ignore North Korea's rhetoric, some senior American officials have expressed worry following the intercontinental ballistic missile test, North Korea's third.

On Sunday, Lindsey Graham, a US senator from the state of South Carolina, said he believes that it's time for American military families in South Korea to leave the country because conflict with North Korea is getting close.

The US government has not announced a formal decision to evacuate US citizens from South Korea, and there were no such signs in the diplomatic community in Seoul.

An evacuation of dependents by Seoul's closest ally and major military defender could prompt a panicked reaction by other countries, and among South Koreans.

In addition to American diplomats and other embassy workers, about 28,500 US troops operate in South Korea, and many come to their posts with their families, who often live on huge, well-guarded military bases.

Also on Sunday, the White House national security adviser said that Mr Trump will take care of North Korean threats by "doing more ourselves".

"The priorities that the president's given us to move as quickly as we can to resolve this crisis with North Korea," General Herbert Raymond McMaster told Fox News in an interview.

"If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because he has said he's not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States."

Press Association

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