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Koreas on Edge Amid Live-fire Drills

  • Brian Padden

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as North Korea threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the United States and South Korean forces held joint military exercises.

The drills – conducted from Kunsan Air Base on South Korea’s coast – may not have been scheduled in response to specific threats from North Korea, but they demonstrate U.S. and South Korean forces’ capabilities.

The weeklong exercise called “Max Thunder” included approximately 80 U.S. and South Korean fighter jets, some of which flew from military bases in the United States. Commanders were simulating a rapid-response scenario to defend against both air and missile attacks.

Carrying out such a large-scale operation poses major coordination and communication challenges, U.S. Marine Corps pilot Captain Hugh Anderson said.

"For the briefings and de-briefings and the mission plannings, it’s just the language barrier," he said. "Working through, always having to go through an interpreter and everything has to be said twice."

At the same time on the Korean Peninsula’s southeast coast, more than 1,000 South Korean marines conducted an amphibious landing exercise with U.S. support.

UN cites rights violations

While these joint military exercises were underway, a United Nations committee approved a resolution calling on the international organization’s Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for alleged human rights violations.

Pyongyang called the vote a hostile action. In a statement read on North Korea’s State television, the government said it would respond by conducting new nuclear tests: "Our deterrence will grow unlimitedly stronger to cope with the armed intervention and invasive plans by the U.S."

While tensions remain high between the United States and North Korea, American military leaders say their defensive exercises are not planned in response to any specific threat or event.

"Certainly, there are events that go on every day. Tensions rise and fall on the peninsula – that’s the nature of being here," said Air Force Colonel Ken Ekman, commander of the Kunsan joint exercises. "We focus not so much on what’s the current risk today but what’s the state of our readiness."

However, Ekman said these massive displays of force are intended show North Korea and other countries in the region that the U.S. remains a dominant military power in Asia.

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