U.S. and South Korean military officials plan to move ahead with large-scale exercises later this month that North Korea, now finalizing plans to launch a salvo of missiles toward Guam, claims are a rehearsal for war.
The exercises are an annual event, but come as Pyongyang says it is readying a plan to fire off four “Hwasong-12” missiles toward the U.S. island territory and major military hub. The plan would be sent to leader Kim Jong Un for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea exercises begin. Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run from Aug. 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air. The exercises were scheduled well before tensions began to rise over President Donald Trump’s increasingly fiery rhetoric and North Korea’s announcement of the missile plan, which would be its most provocative launch yet.
Along with a bigger set of maneuvers held every spring, the exercises are routinely met by strong condemnation and threats of countermeasures from North Korea. But the heightened military activity on the peninsula this time is a concern because it could increase the possibility of a mishap or an overreaction of some sort by either side that could spin into a more serious escalation.