More troops taking part in US-S. Korea military drills

South Korean army tanks during a live firing drill yesterday. The United States and South Korea will be holding two joint military exercises next month.
South Korean army tanks during a live firing drill yesterday. The United States and South Korea will be holding two joint military exercises next month.PHOTO: REUTERS

Annual exercise ramped up in the wake of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea

SEOUL • Four times the number of US troops originally planned are to take part in a joint military exercise with South Korea next month following nuclear and missile tests by the North, Seoul said yesterday.

The United States will send 15,000 troops to the computer-simulated Key Resolve exercise, Yonhap news agency quoted Defence Minister Han Min Goo as saying, up from 3,700 last year. South Korea, too, will increase the number of troops for the annual drill, he said.

This came as the government in Seoul reportedly told lawmakers that there is a possibility of North Korea waging terrorist attacks using poison or by kidnapping South Koreans.

North Korea regularly ratchets up its hostile rhetoric around the time of the joint US-South Korea military exercises. Last year, the reclusive state fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea at the start of the exercises.

Key Resolve, which ran for 10 days last year, usually kicks off simultaneously with a joint military drill known as Foal Eagle that lasts around 50 days. Both drills are scheduled to begin on March 7, said The Korea Times.

Foal Eagle is also expected to be the largest ever this year, with the participation of key US strategic assets such as an airforce combat brigade, marines, a naval fleet led by an aircraft carrier and nuclear-powered submarines, Yonhap said.

North Korea regularly ratchets up its hostile rhetoric around the time of the joint US-South Korea military exercises. Last year, the reclusive state fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea at the start of the exercises.

This year, the North's leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his military and intelligence agents to intensify preparations for terror attacks like cyber hits and kidnapping South Koreans, a ruling party lawmaker from the South said yesterday.

Last month, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test, and followed it with a long-range rocket launch on Feb 7. The launch was widely condemned as a violation of United Nations resolutions.

The US and South Korea have responded with a series of military muscle-flexing activities.

On Monday, the USS North Carolina attack submarine arrived at the southern port of Busan to train with the South Korean navy. On Wednesday, four F-22 stealth fighters, reportedly the world's most advanced air superiority fighters, arrived at an airbase near Seoul.

Seoul and Washington are also reportedly set to begin talks on the possible deployment to South Korea of an advanced American missile defence system, despite opposition from Beijing.

The South's Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun said Seoul would exercise its sovereign rights when deciding whether to host the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System.

The system fires anti-ballistic missiles into the sky to smash into enemy missiles either inside or outside the Earth's atmosphere during their final flight phase.

Seoul last week abruptly withdrew from the Kaesong industrial complex, where South Korean firms operated factories that employed North Korean workers, arguing that hard currency from the symbol of cooperation with the North is believed to have been diverted to weapons development.

Separately, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June Hyuck said South Korea is also seeking international cooperation to curb the number of North Korean immigrant workers.

Some 60,000 North Koreans are working in China, Russia, the Middle East and South-east Asia, Yonhap said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'More troops taking part in US-S. Korea military drills'. Print Edition | Subscribe