Hundreds of aircrafts including two dozen stealth jets and thousands of troops are participating in a major war game organised by the US and South Korean military. The combined air exercise comes a week after North Korea test-fired its powerful and nuclear-capable Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which according to sources can target even the US mainland.
The drills, named "Vigilant Ace", seek to improve the all-weather, day and night combined operational capacity of the two countries, according to the South Korean Defence Ministry.
However, a ministry spokesperson insisted that such types of manoeuvres are of the defensive type. Although the Ministry did not confirm whether it was the largest air combat manoeuvres ever carried out between Washington and Seoul, local media suggested that the operation marks the two countries' largest joint air drills ever recorded, with more than 230 aircraft and some 12,000 troops in participation.
The North Korean regime, which usually considers such military exercises as an attempt to invade its territory, condemned the Vigilant Ace drills on Sunday.
Pyongyang had said that it considers this massive show of strength as ‘provocation and will "seriously consider" countermeasures against the drill. It warned that the U.S. and South Korea will "pay dearly for their provocations," the Korean Central News Agency said on Sunday before the start of the exercises.
The US has deployed over two dozen stealth fighter jets, including F-22s and F-35s, and two strategic B-1B bombers in the manoeuvres, which will conclude on Saturday.
The joint drills were set to simulate precision attacks on mock nuclear facilities and self-propelled missile launch vehicles similar to those used by Pyongyang.
The operation is part of an agreement endorsed in October between Washington and Seoul, which aims at expanding "rotational deployment" of US strategic assets on the Korean peninsula and pressuring North Korea to drop its nuclear programme.
Meanwhile, in Soul, protests broke out against the joint war games demanding a dialogue over the war.
Dozens of people gathered outside the US embassy in Seoul to protest against these biannual war games and demanded that all parties choose dialogue to resolve the current crisis peacefully, reports Efe news.
Russia and China, has long been pushing a "double freeze" plan which would ensure de-escalation with North Korea suspending its nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korea war. The US had rejected this proposal arguing that Washington has right to conduct exercises.
Earlier, White House National Security Adviser (NSA) HR McMaster warned that North Korea represents "the greatest immediate threat to the US" and that the potential for war was increasing every day, the media reported.
In another report, it is claimed that the South Korean military has created a ‘decapitation unit’, a special force unit aimed at eliminating the North Korean leadership and strategic infrastructures deep inside the ‘enemy’ territory in the event of a war.
The special unit formed on the lines of the US Army Rangers, Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and the Green Berets, was reportedly launched on Friday. It was established under South Korea's Special Warfare Command.
The army had initially planned to launch the unit in 2019 but decided to accelerate its creation amid rising regional tensions following North Korea's ballistic missile launches, according to the newspaper.
(with inputs from IANS)