South Korea and the United States have kicked off week-long war games in the waters around the restive Korean Peninsula, in a move that could lead to a new surge in tensions with the North.
About 40 navy ships from both countries, including the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and US submarine Michigan, started maritime exercises on the east and west coasts of the peninsula, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on Monday.
The South Korean navy said the maneuvers, which will last until October 20, also involve fighter jets and helicopters.
Pyongyang views such drills as a rehearsal for war against North Korea, and has repeatedly called on its neighbors, including South Korea and Japan, not to engage in joint exercises with Washington.
North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency on Saturday slammed the military exercises as “a reckless act of war maniacs.”
Pyongyang also reacted to the deployment of the US aircraft carrier and other war assets to the peninsula, saying Washington is trying to provoke North Korea.
Prior to the latest Washington-Seoul drills, South Korea media had reported that the North was preparing for another missile launch.
The Donga Ilbo daily, citing a government source, said on Saturday that satellite pictures showed ballistic missiles on launchers being transported out of hangars near Pyongyang and in North Phyongan Province.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen sharply in recent weeks following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3 and two missile launches over Japan.
The tests were conducted amid a war of words with the United States, whose new administration has threatened to “destroy” North Korea.
The international community has pressed Pyongyang to abandon its missiles and nuclear weapons development programs.
Pyongyang, however, insists its weapons are of defensive nature, acting as a deterrent against potential foreign aggression.