The United States and South Korea began their annual military exercises Monday, with officials describing the largely computer-simulated war games as defensive in nature.
The drills draw objections from North Korea, which sees them as a rehearsal for an invasion, and this year the exercises come after tensions on the peninsula shot up with North Korea’s test-firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.
A commentary in Sunday’s editon of North Korea’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are “playing with fire” by holding the drills and aggravating the already-tense situation on the Korean peninsula.
Moonsaid Monday it is North Korea’s “continued provocations” that make the military exercises necessary.
“There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and of a defensive nature,” he said.”North Korea should not exaggerate our efforts to keep peace nor should they engage in provocations that would worsen the situation.”
The exercises, dubbed Ulchi Freedom Guardian, are schedule to run through August 31 and involve 17,500 U.S. troops and 50,000 South Korean military personnel.
The number of U.S. forces is lower than it was last year.U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the reduction is not related to easing tensions with North Korea, but rather “by design to achieve the exercise objectives.”