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Roundup: S.Korea, U.S. kick off joint annual war game despite DPRK's backlashes

Xinhua, August 22, 2016 Adjust font size:

South Korean and U.S. forces kicked off their joint annual war game on Monday despite strong backlashes from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The annually-held Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) will be conducted from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, Combined Forces Command said in a press release.

The computer-assisted simulation exercise will mobilize about 25,000 U.S. troops, including 2,500 reinforcements from the U.S. mainland and the U.S. Pacific Command. It was lower than last year's 30,000 U.S. forces.

From the South Korean side, some 50,000 forces will join the military exercise. It was almost the same as last year's.

The combined forces will reportedly apply Operation Plan 5015 to this year's UFG exercise. The OPLAN 5015 is a wartime joint defense scenario signed in June last year between Seoul and Washington to preemptively destroy the DPRK's nuclear and missile bases in times of military conflicts.

The United Nations Command's military armistice commission notified the DPRK at about 9:40 a.m. local time of the drill schedule and its defense nature verbally in Panmunjom, the truce village in the border dividing the two Koreas.

All of military communications lines between South Korea and the DPRK have been shut down after Pyongyang's nuclear detonation in January and its launch of long-range rocket in February that was seen as a disguised test of ballistic missile technology.

Tensions were heightened further as Seoul and Washington agreed in July to deploy one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korean soil by the end of next year.

The U.S. missile shield caused strong backlashes from the DPRK as well as China and Russia as the THAAD's X-band radar can snoop on Chinese and Russian territories.

This year's UFG exercise would not mobilize U.S. strategic weapons, according to local media reports, for fear of escalating the already-heightened tensions further in the region.

The DPRK slammed the UFG exercises, saying the drill is "an outrageous provocation for a nuclear war against the North aimed to encroach upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and infringe on the vital rights of its people."

The official news agency KCNA carried the statement on Sunday for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) that said it is "the resolute stand of the DPRK to decisively foil all hostile acts and threat of aggression and provocation with the Korean-style nuclear deterrence."

Each year, South Korea and the United States conduct a number of joint military drills including "Key Resolve," "Foal Eagle" and "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" which they claim to be defensive in nature. But the DPRK says the annual war games are designed for northward invasion.

Seoul's unification ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told a press briefing that it was very regrettable for the DPRK to distort and denounce the "annually-held defensive" exercise, urging Pyongyang to make a right choice by stopping nuclear and missile developments and avoiding provocative acts. Endit