S. Korea, US start major annual military drill
SEOUL (AFP) - The South Korean and United States (US) military on Monday began an annual major joint exercise to test defences against North Korea, a drill denounced by Pyongyang which vowed to strengthen its nuclear deterrent.
More than 30,000 US troops, including most of those based in the South plus 3,000 from overseas, are taking part in the drill known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which ends on Aug 31, the US forces said in a statement. Seoul's defence ministry could not say how many South Korean troops were taking part but Yonhap news agency put the number at 56,000.
The drill does not involve field training and is largely a computer-simulated exercise, with troops staying at their normal bases. US and South Korean forces insist it is defensive while the North on Monday called it a drill for a preemptive nuclear attack.
"The prevailing situation requires (North Korea) to bolster up the war deterrent physically and goes to prove that it was entirely just when it determined to fully reexamine the nuclear issue," the North's foreign ministry said. The war deterrent "serves as a just means for retaliation", it said in a statement published by state media.