South Korean army soldiers prepare for an exercise at a training field in Paju, South Korea. File/AP
Gulf Today Report
The United States and South Korea began their biggest combined military training in years on Monday as they heighten their defence posture against the growing North Korean nuclear threat, as liberal activists held a rally to protest against it.
The drills could draw an angry response from North Korea, which has dialed up its weapons testing activity to a record pace this year while repeatedly threatening conflicts with Seoul and Washington amid a prolonged stalemate in diplomacy.
The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will continue through Sept. 1 in South Korea and include field exercises involving aircraft, warships, tanks and potentially tens of thousands of troops.
While Washington and Seoul describe their exercises as defensive, North Korea portrays them as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development.
US and South Korean marines participate in a joint landing operation drill in Pohang. File/Reuters
Ulchi Freedom Shield, which started along with a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will reportedly include exercises simulating joint attacks, front-line reinforcements of arms and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, South Korea's wartime command was handed over the US-led UN command after the 1950-53 Korean War broke out. South Korea won back its peacetime operational control in 1994.
In protest against the planned South Korea-US war games, thousands of liberal activists gathered in central Seoul on Saturday in advance of the Liberation Day on Monday to celebrate the 77th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula's liberation from the Imperial Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
The protesters took to the streets and chanted anti-US slogans shouting, "Dissolve (South) Korea-US alliance" and "This land is not a US war base."
Protesters hold a rally against the joint military exercises between South Korea and the US in Seoul on Monday. AFP
The activists, most of them dressed in raincoat, held in their hands various placards and signs criticizing the United States that read "No war rehearsal, No US" and "No (South) Korea-US-Japan military cooperation."
The allies will also train for drone attacks and other new developments in warfare shown during Russia’s war on Ukraine and practice joint military-civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports and major industrial facilities such as semiconductor factories.
The United States and South Korea in past years had canceled some of their regular drills and downsized others to computer simulations to create space for the Trump administration’s diplomacy with North Korea and because of COVID-19 concerns.
Tensions have grown since the collapse of the second meeting between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in early 2019. The Americans then rejected North Korean demands for a major release of crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear complex, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities. Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of "gangster-like” US pressure.
North Korea has ramped up its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, launching more than 40 ballistic missiles, including developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and an intermediate-range missile fired over Japan.
The latest launch came after the South Korean and US militaries began mainly computer-simulated joint exercises on Monday to test Seoul's ability to take operational control in wartime.
An SUV crashed with a military armoured vehicle at about 9:30pm on Sunday, on a public road about 5km from a live-fire range used by the US and South Korean militaries in Pocheon, between Seoul and the North Korean border, the fire department said in a statement.
At least 26 people were injured — including a local cleric — and transferred to hospitals. Police helped reroute traffic in the area after condoning off the site, officials said. The interior minister of Gilgit-Baltistan called the incident an "act of terrorism.”
Modi thanked voters for "their unwavering support” in the states where his party was leading. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader, conceded defeat in the three states where his party was trailing.
Global donors at the 2023 Reaching the Last Mile Forum on Sunday pledged a collective $777.2 million to help control, eliminate, and eradicate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
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