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U.S., South Korea to revive large-scale military drills amid North Korea threat

By Thomas Maresca   |   March 3, 2023 at 4:27 AM
South Korean Col. Lee Sung-jun (R) and U.S. Col. Isaac Taylor announced Friday that the allies would kick off a combined springtime military exercise on March 13. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, March 3 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea will revive a massive springtime joint military exercise this month, both countries announced Friday, returning to a scale not seen in five years in response to growing missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.

The Freedom Shield exercise will be held from March 13 to 23 and will consist of live field drills and computer-simulation command post exercises, the two militaries said at a joint press conference in Seoul.


"Freedom Shield is designed to strengthen defense and response capabilities of the alliance by focusing within the exercise scenario on things such as the changing security environment, DPRK aggression and lessons learned from recent wars and conflicts," U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Isaac Taylor told the joint press briefing.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.

Officials said the field drills will return to the size of previous Foal Eagle exercises, which were suspended in 2019 under the administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who led a diplomatic push for inter-Korean rapprochement.

"During the exercise period, we will also conduct a number of large-scale combined field training exercises that have returned to the scale of Foal Eagle," Taylor said. "One of those exercises will include a combined amphibious drill that will be conducted to improve combined operation execution capabilities."

Prior to Freedom Shield, the allies also plan to conduct a four-day crisis management exercise.

North Korea has long condemned U.S.-South Korea joint drills as preparations for an invasion and warned last month of "unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions" to the upcoming exercise.

Seoul and Washington have stepped up their military cooperation in recent months amid a flurry of weapons tests and hostile rhetoric from the North.

Pyongyang fired a record number of ballistic missiles last year and has continued with several tests in recent weeks, including the launch of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile last month that experts believe has the range to reach the entire United States.

The North has also threatened to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States in pre-emptive strikes. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently called for "an exponential increase" of the country's nuclear arsenal and ordered the mass production of lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed to be used on the battlefield.

Last week, Pyongyang test-fired four cruise missiles in what it called a demonstration of its "lethal nuclear counterattack capability."

Officials in Seoul and Washington have assessed that North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test, which would be its seventh overall and first since 2017. The allies conducted a tabletop exercise last week to prepare for a possible North Korean nuclear attack.