US, S.Korea to hold big exercises with focus on N.Korea “aggression”
By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) -The United States and South Korea will conduct more than 10 days of large-scale military exercises in March, including amphibious landings, officials from the two countries said on Friday.
The “Freedom Shield” drills will be held from March 13 to March 23 to strengthen the allies’ combined defensive posture, the two militaries said in a statement released at a briefing in Seoul.
“Freedom Shield is designed to strengthen defence and response capabilities of the Alliance by focusing within the exercise scenario on things such as the changing security environment, DPRK aggression and lessons learned from recent wars and conflicts,” the allies said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.
On Friday, the two militaries conducted a combined air drill with at least one American B-1B long-range bomber and South Korean F-15K and KF-16 fighter aircraft, South Korea’s ministry of defence said in a statement.
The aim was to practice coordination as well as demonstrate American “extended deterrence” against North Korean threats, the ministry said.
Such exercises have in the past drawn sharp reactions from North Korea, including missile tests and nuclear threats.
North Korea says such joint military exercises are proof that the United States and its allies are hostile and bent on regime change in the North.
When asked about the North’s reaction, Colonel Isaac Taylor, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said the drills were routine and purely defensive.
South Korean officials have noted North Korea is also conducting annual winter drills.
Freedom Shield will feature field exercises on a scale not seen since about 2017, before former U.S. President Donald Trump scaled back public drills to facilitate diplomacy with North Korea.
Talks with North Korea later stalled and COVID-19 restrictions kept drills small in recent years.
With a record number of missile launches from North Korea last year, and South Korea’s lifting of anti-pandemic measures, the allies are returning to large-scale drills.
Over the past month South Korean and U.S. special operations troops conducted a live-fire drill named “Teak Knife”, which included a U.S. AC-130J gunship that participated in joint drills for the first time, firing guided missiles and bombs as well as 30 mm and 105 mm guns.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)