SEOUL — Tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops kicked off a large-scale military exercise on Monday.
The annual Ulchi Freedom exercise, which the defence ministry said would run through August 28, is largely computer-simulated, but still involves 50,000 Korean and 30,000 US soldiers. Both Seoul and Washington insist it remains purely defensive in nature.
Pyongyang views Ulchi Freedom – along with other annual South Korea-US drills – as wilfully provocative and has threatened the "strongest military counter-action" should this year's exercise go ahead.
"Such large-scale joint military exercises... are little short of a declaration of a war," the North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which oversees cross-border issues, said last week.
The committee specifically warned of the drill's potential for an accidental military clash that could trigger an "all-out" conflict.
North Korea has denied any involvement and, at the weekend, threatened "indiscriminate" strikes against South Korean border units unless the broadcasts are halted immediately.
According to the South's defence ministry, this year's Ulchi Freedom drill will place a particular emphasis on reconnaissance and intelligence assets to strengthen monitoring of the heavily-militarised frontier.
The rising tensions were expected to top the agenda of a National Security Council convened and chaired on Monday morning by President Park Geun-Hye. — AFP