US and South Korean forces hold largest joint exercise in years
Dubbed the “Freedom Shield,” the drills will run from March 13-23 to bolster the allies’ combined defensive posture, the two servicemen said in a statement during a briefing in Seoul.
“Freedom Shield is designed to enhance Alliance defense and response capabilities by focusing on issues such as the evolving security environment, DPRK aggression and lessons learned from wars and recent conflicts in the exercise scenario,” said the statement, which uses the initials of North Korea’s official name.
Previous drills have drawn strong reactions from North Korea, including missile launches and nuclear threats. Pyongyang said such joint military operations prove the hostility of Washington and its allies.
Asked about the North’s possible response, US Forces Korea (USFK) spokesman Col. Isaac Taylor said the drills were routine and purely defensive.
South Korean officials noted that North Korea also holds annual winter drills.
Freedom Shield includes field exercises on a scale not seen since 2017, before former US President Donald Trump scaled back public exercises to facilitate diplomacy with North Korea.
Talks with Pyongyang have long stalled, but in the years since COVID-19 restrictions have limited drills. With the record number of missile launches by North Korea last year and the lifting of anti-pandemic measures by South Korea, the allies are returning to large-scale drills as a warning to Pyongyang.
Last month, South Korean and American special operations forces conducted a shooting exercise dubbed “Teak Knife”, in which an American AC-130J fighter took part in joint exercises for the first time, firing missiles guided weapons and bombs as well as 30 and 105 mm guns. .
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