SOUTH KOREA/UNITED STATES: Less than 20 miles from the border with North Korea, a combined force of South Korean and American troops conducted a major live-fire exercise on Wednesday, replete with artillery, tanks and other weapons as allies ramp up military efforts for war.
In recent times, South Korea and the US have resumed the largest field exercises in years after diplomatic deliberations and COVID-19 restrictions delayed many of these operations.
Many have perceived these combined military operations as an active effort to deter North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. North Korea has condemned these acts and called them a rehearsal for war. Even people back home in South Korea and the US have criticized the whole affair.
Reuters was one of the few news media organisations granted rare access to the military drills on Wednesday.
They were the first division-level exercises for the 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division, the U.S. military’s only multinational division formed in 2015. ROK are the initials for South Korea’s official name.
The drills entailed live fire from American and South Korean howitzers, tanks, machine guns, and mortars. A-10 attack aircraft and Apache helicopters also participated in the exercise.
Several rounds from howitzers jolted a mountainside at the Rodriguez Life Fire Complex, as main battle tanks from both sides targeted and fired their guns at targets, sending shockwaves across the valley.
Colonel Brandon Anderson, the division’s deputy commander for manoeuvre, said the drills were not specifically aimed at one enemy, but they took into account the “reason for the U.S.-ROK alliance”, referring to North Korea.
The drills were part of a mock assessment of a military confrontation. They were designed to stimulate the idea of a “near-peer” enemy who could be equated with the allies on the same plane, he said.
“We’re training for large-scale combat operations,” Anderson said, highlighting the urgent need for military prowess in long-range artillery and surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, as seen in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Anderson denied rumours that the delay was due to political reasons but cited COVID-19 restrictions and logistical challenges as reasons for the postponement.
Similar large-scale exercises were put on hold when former US President Donald Trump tried to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to relinquish his nuclear weapons back in 2018. Since then, the pandemic has raged and prevented further drills.
A veteran defence official told Reuters that on more than one occasion, the two allies have conducted military drills without any press or public display and notification.
However, that had changed ever since North Korea refused to back down in front of world powers and surrender its nuclear stockpile. Earlier this month, the North Korean Leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, refused South Korean aid in exchange for denuclearization.