South Korean and U.S. forces will launch an annual joint exercise later this month to improve their defense posture against North Korea, the Combined Forces Command said Saturday.
The computer-aided Ulchi Freedom Guardian will be held Aug. 19-30, mobilizing about 50,000 South Korean forces and approximately 30,000 U.S. servicemen, including some 3,000 from the U.S. and other bases in the Pacific region, the CFC said in a statement.
“Ulchi Freedom Guardian is a critical alliance exercise to sustain the readiness of Republic of Korea, U.S. forces and the Sending State Forces,” Gen. James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said in a statement. “It is based on realistic scenarios and enables us to train on our essential tasks with a whole of government approach.”
The UNC Military Armistice Commission earlier in the day informed Pyongyang through its border village Panmunjeom of the exercise dates and the routine nature of the training, it said.
Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission observers will monitor the exercise along with seven United Nations Command states ― Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and France.
Seoul officials are paying close attention to the upcoming drill as hopes have risen over the resumption of the Gaeseong industrial park, which was shuttered in April amid high tension on the Korean Peninsula.
Last week, South Korea’s Unification Ministry accepted the North’s proposal for talks to be held on Aug. 14 to discuss ways to resume operation of the joint complex, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
North Korea has long balked at these joint maneuvers, claiming they are a prelude to war. Seoul and Washington have countered that the drill is defensive in nature.
The Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea. (Yonhap News)