WASHINGTON: US and South Korean militaries will go ahead with massive sea, land and air exercises later this month, despite a spiralling situation in which North Korea has threatened to fire missiles towards a US Pacific territory. The annual joint exercises, named Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, have long been planned for 21-31 August, but now come at a time when both Washington and Pyongyang are on heightened alert, raising the spectre of a mishap or overreaction.
The timing is doubly concerning as it is within a timeframe in which Pyongyang says it will be ready to fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles toward the US-run island of Guam, an unusually specific threat against the US. Washington and Seoul say the exercises, involving tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops, are a deterrent against North Korean aggression.
In the past, the practices are believed to have included “decapitation strikes” – trial operations for an attempt to kill Kim Jong-un and his top generals, further antagonising a paranoid leadership.
Trump kept the pressure up with a tweet on Friday morning threatening Pyongyang but indicating he wanted to avoid hostilities:
A US-led move that brought the United Nations security council to impose broad sanctions on North Korea was passed on Saturday, sparking a furious response from Kim’s regime, promising “thousands-fold” revenge.
Speaking off the cuff, Trump then added further heat by threatening to unleash “fire and fury”, to which Pyongyang responded with its plan to fire four missiles to land in waters near Guam. Agencies
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