US, S Korea begin war games; North fumes

The 11-day drills, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian in honour of a Korean general from the seventh century, are the largest annual joint United States-South Korean military exercises, most of them conducted in computer simulations. This year they involved 56,000 South Korean forces as well as 30,000 United States troops in South Korea and abroad.

As a parallel exercise, 4,00,000 South Korean government employees go on a civil defence drill, which this year will include a simulated terrorist attack ahead of the G-20 summit meeting that is scheduled to take place in Seoul this November.

Although the United States and South Korea said the exercises were purely defensive, North Korea routinely condemns such drills as preparations for an invasion. This year the North escalated its belligerent response, firing artillery shells on a disputed western sea border with the South last Monday.

Tensions in the region have surged since a South Korean warship exploded and sank near a disputed sea border on March 26. South Korea and the United States blamed North Korea for the sinking, which killed 46 sailors.

Their latest joint military exercises followed large naval drills in the recent weeks, which South Korea conducted both on its own and together with the United States in a show of force and as a warning against further North Korean provocations.

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