The United States and South Korea on Monday began annual joint military drills, referred to as war games and here known as Ulchi-Freedom Guardian.
However, as tensions have reached a boiling point between North Korea and the United States, the nation led by dictator Kim Jong Un has said that participating in these drills would be like “throwing fuel onto fire,” according to a New York Times report.
It is not uncommon that the annual war games irrirate North Korea, though.
North Korea’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, on Sunday wrote that the drills were like “throwing fuel onto fire,” and that the drills could “worsen the situation,” the Times reported.
“No one can guarantee that this will not escalate into a real war,” the newspaper said, saying the drills are a “rehearsal for nuclear war” and the “most naked expression of hostility” toward the North, the Times said.
“We have no intention of raising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday, the Times reported. “North Korea should not use this as a pretext for provocation.”
The war games take place over at least 10 days.
Approximately 17,500 U.S. service members are involved – including 3,000 or so from outside the Korean Peninsula – and 50,000 South Korean troops.
Exercises include “computer simulations carried out in a large bunker south of Seoul intended to check the allies’ readiness to repel aggressions by the North,” the Times reported.
Last year, more than 25,000 U.S. troops participated in the war games, and it has been reported that the number of U.S. troops was reduced this year following the increasing hostility between the United States and North Korea, especially given the rhetoric back and forth between the nations’ leaders.
North Korea recently released anti-West propaganda posters that show the destruction of the U.S. Capitol building, as well as the United States being in range of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
North Korea in July also tested two ICBMs, which it claimed were successful tests and that the country could now target as far as the East Coast – including Washington, D.C. – were it to launch the ICBMs for real.
The propaganda posters come on the heels of North Korea backing down and calling off its threat to bomb Guam, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific.
The KCNA recently said that Kim Jong Un might change his mind “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions.”
That statement came just one day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that if North Korea did fire a missile at the United States, “it’s game on.”
Rhetoric between the United States and North Korea has lately been nothing short of a soap opera.
On August 11 – prior to Mattis’ last comments, President Donald Trump threatened that Kim Jong Un will “truly regret it, and regret it fast” if North Korea were to fire any missile.
North Korea on August 8 threatened to attack Guam with intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missiles, and then said it would continue to plan a strike on the U.S. territory despite warnings from both President Trump and Defense Secretary Mattis, and that plans for the attack would be completed by mid-August.
This came on the heels of Trump saying August 8 that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if it continues to threaten the United States. And, Mattis also said North Korea should “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people.”
Trump later said his “fire and fury” statement might not have been “tough enough,” and the President said August 10 for North Korea to “get their act together” or the country will be in trouble “like few nations have ever been.”
Trump also said August 10 that while Americans should be “very comfortable,” North Koreans should be “very, very nervous […] because things will happen to them like they never thought possible.”
On August 11, Trump tweeted and warned Kim Jong Un that: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
North Korea had responded to U.S. threats not long before that, saying it considers the United States “no more than a lump which we can beat to a jelly any time.”