The United States and South Korea held large-scale joint aerial drills today (Monday), prompting North Korea to warn that the Korean peninsula would be brought to “the brink of nuclear war”. The drills were held despite calls from Russia and China to cancel them, reported Reuters.
The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US as part of a weapons program that it conducted in defiance of international sanctions.
The North’s KCNA state news agency, citing a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Saturday the Trump administration was “begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula” while North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called U.S. President Donald Trump “insane” and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was “regrettable” that all parties had not “grasped the window of opportunity” presented by two months of relative calm before the North’s most recent test.
China and Russia had proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs.
The annual U.S.-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part.
F-35 fighters will also join the drills, which will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman.
Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.
The joint exercises between South Korea and United States are designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military had said before the drills began.
North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
It has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against U.S. invasion plans. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.