What will S. Korea, US demonstrate in joint drills?

Mattis, who made South Korea his first stop on his first trip overseas as Defense Secretary last month, reiterated the USA commitment to the defense of its ally in a phone call Wednesday with his South Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo.

A spokesman for the North's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said Wednesday the country will continue to bolster its military might, centered around nuclear and pre-emptive attack capabilities, "unless the USA and South Korea give up their ambition for aggression", according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Annual exercises between Seoul and Washington always rile the North, which calls the defensive drills a rehearsal for an invasion.

In last year's drill, about 17,000 USA soldiers and the nuclear-powered John C. Stennis aircraft carrier were involved. A spokesman for USA forces in Korea said the drills this year would be identical to the one held in 2016.

He also addressed Pyongyang's alleged role in the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother in Malaysia on February 13.

According to the spokesman, about 3,600 USA soldiers have so far been deployed to take part in the Foal Eagle drills, which are the first of the two series of war games that will stretch over two months.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency said earlier on Wednesday its leader Kim Jong Un inspected the headquarters of a major military unit and issued guidance on increasing combat readiness.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has stressed his country's commitment to defending Seoul against Pyongyang's possible aggression, a media report said.The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the defence of its ally, it said.

The development comes as scores of protesters staged a rally outside the US Embassy in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Wednesday, expressing opposition to the war games and emphasizing that the drills would "bring the peninsula sharply closer to the brink of a nuclear war".

Mattis "further emphasized that any attack on the United States or its allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons will be met with a response that is effective and overwhelming".

The KPA statement, which accused Washington of attempting to wage a nuclear war, added that it will "foil the nuclear war racket of the aggressors with its treasured nuclear sword of justice". In 2016, North Korea had performed two nuclear tests and several missile launches, which have sparked global outrage.

South Korea's acting president said Wednesday the country would respond with strong actions against any provocations made by the North and seek tougher United Nations sanctions against the isolated state.

Last year, the two countries made the decision to build a missile defense system together.

  • Leroy Wright