August 21, 2017 09:29
U.S. military leaders are arriving in South Korea ahead of the annual joint exercises that kicks off on Monday.
Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Gen. John Hyten, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, arrived on Sunday. They are followed by Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. They will stay for a few days and watch the exercises in a rare show of determination by such senior brass.
"This is a warning to the North not to miscalculate the situation and act recklessly" after it threatened to attack the U.S. territory of Guam, a government source here said.
Harris told Defense Minister Song Young-moo that the U.S.' "ironclad" commitment to the defense of South Korea remains unchanged in the face of nuclear and missile threats from the North.
The North last week canceled the ostensible plan to strike Guam with ballistic missiles, saying it will watch the conduct of the U.S. "a little more."
But on Sunday the North issued a new threat, saying that the joint drills will be "adding fuel to fire" and "further worsen the situation" in the region. "No one can guarantee that the exercises won't evolve into actual fighting," it added.
The Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills are not a field training exercise but a computer-driven command post exercise.
Hyten's Strategic Command is in charge of preventive and counterattack operations in case the U.S. comes under attack with weapons of mass destruction. It controls all strategic assets of the U.S. military capable of carrying nuclear weapons such as nuclear-powered submarines and strategic bombers, as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles.
"Until recently, the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills have played out only a conventional war scenario. But there's a likelihood that this year's drills will play a nuclear war game for the first time," a Defense Ministry official here said.
According to the U.S. Forces Korea, a total of 17,500 U.S. troops -- 3,000 reinforcements from the U.S. mainland and 14,500 USFK troops -- will participate in this year's drills. That is 7,500 USFK troops fewer than last year, but a USFK officer said troop size makes no big difference because the exercises are mainly a computer simulation drill. He said more attention should be paid to the seniority of the U.S. military leaders who have come to watch.
A South Korean military spokesman said, "We can't say that the exercises have been downscaled, given that there will be more reinforcement personnel."
Meanwhile, the exercises will also test the country's emergency response system from Monday through Thursday. Some 480,000 officials from about 4,000 government agencies and public organizations will participate in the exercises.
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