North Korea has warned that the ongoing military drills between the South and the US could trigger a “nuclear war” in the region, vowing a “merciless strike” against American territories.
In a Monday statement, the North Korean military accused the US of deploying “lethal” weapons for the so-called Ulchi Freedom Guardian with Seoul, saying the drill would feature a “beheading operation” training aimed at removing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The statement also said the North will launch an unspecified “merciless retaliation and unsparing punishment” on the US over the exercises, that will run for some two weeks.
“No one can vouch that these huge forces concentrated in South Korea will not go over to an actual war action now that the military tensions have reached an extreme pitch in the Korean Peninsula,” the statement further said.
Pyongyang views the US-South Korean military exercises as practice for invasion.
It also slammed a visit by top US generals, including commander of US forces in the Pacific Admiral Harry Harris, to Seoul earlier in the day, when the drills kicked off, saying they were in the South “to hold a war confab.”
The US generals are to travel to the site of a contentious US missile-defense system in South Korea later Tuesday.
Another statement by the North’s official KCNA news agency also said Monday that the joint Washington-Seoul maneuvers are “aimed to ignite a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula at any cost.”
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula has plunged into a critical phase due to the reckless north-targeted war racket of the war maniacs,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, China has also advised the US against adding to the tensions in the region.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the joint military drills do not serve deescalation, urging Seoul and Washington to stop them.
“We think that South Korea and the United States holding joint drills is not beneficial to easing current tensions or efforts by all sides to promote talks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
Ties between the Koreas are almost always fraught, but anxiety is higher than normal following weeks of tit-for-tat threats between President Donald Trump and Pyongyang in the wake of the North’s two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month.
The maneuvers are largely computer-simulated wargames held every summer and have drawn furious responses from North Korea.
This year’s training involves 17,500 American troops and 50,000 South Korean soldiers, according to the US military command in South Korea and Seoul’s Defense Ministry.
No field exercises, like live-fire exercises or tank maneuvering, are involved in the Ulchi drills, in which alliance officers sit at computers to practice how they would engage in battles and hone their decision-making capabilities. South Korean President Moon Jae-in claimed the joint drills were purely defensive in nature and did not aim to increase tension on the peninsula.
Tensions surged last month after Pyongyang successfully launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) which arms experts say can reach the US mainland.
Earlier this month, President Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire, fury ... the likes of which this world has never seen.”
Pyongyang in response said that it would launch missiles into the waters near the US Pacific island of Guam, where American troops are stationed and some 160,000 US citizens live.
Last week, however, North Korea, which is under mounting international pressure over its missile and military nuclear programs, “postponed” the move.
The US is opposed to the North Korean missile and military nuclear programs. Pyongyang says it needs them as a deterrent against US hostility.