US, S Korea to stage joint drill next month

US, S Korea to stage joint drill next month

SEOUL - Agence France-Presse
US, S Korea to stage joint drill next month

An E-2C Hawkeye lands on the US aircraft carrier USS George Washington during joint military drills between the US and S Korea. AFP photo

U.S. and South Korean troops will stage an annual joint exercise next month to improve their combat-readiness, military authorities said yesterday amid high cross-border tensions.

The allies will hold Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which is largely a computer-simulated exercise, on August 20-31, the Combined Forces Command said in a statement.

North Korea has been told of the dates and of the non-provocative nature of the exercise, it said.The drill will involve many of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South as well as some 3,000 from abroad but there will be no field training, a U.S. military spokesman said.

 Seoul’s defense ministry said each unit involved would test its readiness for contingencies under a war scenario, with command posts linked to each other through computer. The ministry declined to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that 56,000 South Korean troops would be involved. The allies describe their annual exercises as defensive and routine but the North habitually terms them a rehearsal for invasion and launches its own counter-exercises.

 In addition to the regular annual exercises, South Korea has staged a series of drills alone or with U.S. troops since it accused the North of torpedoing one of its warships with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010. The North denied the charge but went on to shell a border island in November 2010, killing four South Koreans.

Tensions are high after the North’s failed rocket launch in April, seen by the United States and its allies as an attempted ballistic missile test. Pyongyang has also threatened attacks on the South’s government and conservative media for perceived insults to its regime.

In the meantime, more than 100 North Koreans who fled to South Korea have returned home this year amid Pyongyang’s efforts to lure them back for propaganda campaigns against Seoul, a report said yesterday. Since the end of the 1950-53 war about 23,500 North Koreans have arrived in the South, mostly via China, after fleeing hunger or repression in their communist homeland.

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