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U.S.-South Korean Exercise Begins

Aug. 21, 2017 (EIRNS)—Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2017, the joint U.S.-South Korean exercise began in South Korea today, involving 17,500 U.S. troops and 50,000 Korean troops. Despite the large number of troops involved, most of the scenarios depicted in the game are playing out in computer simulations. Nonetheless, Pyongyang shrilly warned that the drills would deepen tensions on the Korean Peninsula by "throwing fuel onto fire." The maneuvers are scheduled to end on Aug. 26.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, were both on hand for the opening of the exercise. The New York Times reported that "Their unusual presence was meant to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to defend its ally, officials in South Korea said." It remained unclear, however, whether the drills would involve nuclear-capable long-range bombers and other strategic weapons from the United States, the Times reports.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, during a press availability while en route to Jordan, explained to reporters that the smaller number of U.S. troops participating—17,500 this year compared to 25,000 last year—is not due to a decision to try to reduce tensions on the peninsula, despite much press speculation, but rather was planned months ago as the number needed to reach exercise objectives.

Nonetheless, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, when asked to comment on the troop cutback, said that China has "noted the reduction of the U.S. forces," but reiterated that the military exercises would not help to reduce tensions on the Peninsula, and noted that the drill is viewed by North Korea as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion.

As for North Korean provocations, South Korean president Moon Jae-in warned Pyongyang not to use the joint military exercises as a pretext for provocations, stressing the drills are "defensive in nature."

"North Korea must understand that it is because of its repeated provocations that South Korea and the U.S. have to conduct defensive exercises, which in turn keeps the vicious cycle going,"

he said. He also vowed to make full efforts to contain the situation, while upholding the government’s two-track approach of dialogue and sanctions against the North, reported the Korea Herald.