American and South Korean warships have launched war games off the coast of the Korean Peninsula in an unusually strong display of force aimed at North Korea.
The November 11-14 joint drills, which began on Saturday in the western Pacific, involve three US aircraft carriers — USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt — and seven South Korean warships including three destroyers, according to the South Korean defense ministry.
“The exercise is aimed at enhancing deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and showing off preparedness to fend off any provocative acts by the North,” a ministry spokesman said.
The joint drills — the first in the region for a decade – are taking place in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
The last time such military maneuvers were held was during the Valiant Shield exercises in 2006 and 2007. They were staged off the coast of Guam – a US territory which hosts two American military bases.
The latest war games come at a time when tensions between the US and North Korea have dramatically increased following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang and an ugly war of words between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Trump, whose country has thousands of nuclear weapons, has even threatened to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if necessary.
Addressing South Korea’s National Assembly on Wednesday, Trump ratcheted up his war rhetoric against North Korea, threatening Pyongyang with “destruction” if it continues nuclear “provocations.”
“We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated,” Trump said.
The North Korean leadership has threatened to attack the US with nukes if it continues its aggressive policy against the country.
The North Korean leader ordered the production of more rocket warheads and engines in August, shortly after the United States suggested that its threats of military action and sanctions were having an impact on Pyongyang’s behavior.
Pyongyang says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward the country and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea. Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.
Analysts say US threats against North Korea are counterproductive and justify Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs that it insists are for self-defense. They say Trump’s speech could have an opposite effect, intensifying the deteriorating situation in the Korean Peninsula.
The US Air Force is reportedly preparing to place its fleet of B-52 bombers rigged with nuclear weapons on 24-hour alert for the first time since 1991 amid escalating tensions with North Korea.
A former American Senate foreign policy adviser has said the risk of war between the United States and North Korea has increased by about 30 percent after the US move.
James Jatras made the remarks in a recent interview with Press TV after General David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, reportedly announced this weekend that the US would rebuild and update old B-52 nuclear bombers and put them on high alert amid threats from North Korea.