Amid growing tensions in the Korean peninsula, over 2,000 US troops have arrived in South Korea to take part in a joint military exercise.
The joint US-South Korean exercises willbe largest military drills to be staged on the Korean Peninsula and are both a warning to Pyongyang as well as an effort to reassure the ‘jittery public‘ in the South.
Following recent UN sanctions and citing growing enemy threats, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered his military forces to prepare for using nuclear weapons.
According to US Marine officials, accompanying the troops in the war games are the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard and the amphibious dock landing ships Ashland and Germantown.
The annual exercises, slated to begin on Monday, include two parallel annual drills – Key Resolve and Foal Eagle – and involve over 300,000 South Korean troops and 15,000 US personnel.
During the exercise American and Korean forces will carry out amphibious operations for disaster relief or wartime missions, said Marine Corps spokesman 2nd Lieutenant Joshua Hays.
Pyongyang regularly condemns the joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul as rehearsals for war against North Korea.
The North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and launched an alleged satellite the next month.
In response, the UN Security Council passed its harshest sanctions against Pyongang that was drafted by the US.
The adoption of the new embargo prompted North Korea’s leader to order the country’s nuclear arsenal to be prepared for use at any time and the military to be in “pre-emptive attack” mode over growing threats from enemies.
“Things could get dicey in the next couple months,” Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, DC. “We are already seeing North Korea starting to issue threats: If the US does not stop these exercises or doesn’t cancel these exercises, North Korea may take appropriate action.”
On Thursday, South Korea said the North has fired six projectiles into the sea about 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the South’s coast.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned that “if North Korea launches a provocation, we must respond with stern punishment to clearly show the price North Korea has to pay and our determination to protect our nation.”
South Korea and the US are discussing details of a possible deployment of THAAD, an advanced US missile system, to counter possible threats from Pyongyang.