US, South Korea war drills go ahead
The United States and South Korea went ahead with large-scale joint aerial drills yesterday — a move North Korea said would push the Korean Peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war” — ignoring calls from Russia and China to call off the exercises.
The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.
The annual US-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part.
North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called US President Donald Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.”
F-35 fighters will also join the drills, which will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based US Air Force spokesman.
Around 12,000 US service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight US and South Korean military installations.
South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week.
Trump said last week that additional major sanctions would be imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile test.
Last month, Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows the US to impose more sanctions.
Russia has accused the United States of trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into “flying off the handle” over his missile program to hand the US a pretext to destroy his country.
The joint exercises are designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, according to the US military.
The North’s KCNA state news agency, citing a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Saturday that the Trump administration was “begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula”.
North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Pyongyang has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against US plans to invade. The US, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, denies any such intention.