South Korea, US troops kick off annual drills over North threats

Tuesday, Mar 05, 2024

SEOUL: South Korean and US militaries kicked off their spring drills on Monday with twice the number of troops joining compared to last year, officials said, as the allies seek to better counter North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile threats.

The Freedom Shield exercises, set for March 4-14, come as North Korea continues to develop its nuclear capabilities with missile and other weapons tests. It will also be first since Pyongyang scrapped a 2018 inter-Korean military pact in November.

The allies’ air forces also began their annual, battalion-level Ssangmae exercises for a five-day run, Seoul’s defence ministry said on Monday.Freedom Shield will involve twice the number of troops from both sides compared with last year in 48 rounds of combined field training, including air assault and air strikes, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

The exercises are primarily aimed at neutralising North Korea’s nuclear threats, including by “identifying and striking” cruise missiles, which Pyongyang had indicated could carry nuclear warheads, JCS spokesperson Colonel Lee Sung-jun said.

A nuclear attack scenario will be integrated into summertime drills, he added.American strategic assets such as an aircraft carrier and bombers could participate, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said. US Forces Korea said such assets will likely be deployed in line with past practices but declined to elaborate citing security protocol.“Strategic” is a term often used to describe nuclear forces.