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US, SKorea Begin Military Drills       03/04 06:28

   South Korea and the United States began large annual military exercises 
Monday to bolster their readiness against North Korean nuclear threats after 
the North raised animosities with an extension of missile tests and belligerent 
rhetoric earlier this year.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea and the United States began large 
annual military exercises Monday to bolster their readiness against North 
Korean nuclear threats after the North raised animosities with an extension of 
missile tests and belligerent rhetoric earlier this year.

   The South Korean and U.S. forces began a computer-simulated command post 
training called the Freedom Shield exercise and a variety of field exercises 
for an 11-day run, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.

   North Korea had no immediate response to the major annual drills it regards 
as a rehearsal for invasion. The North has staged provocative weapons tests in 
the past in reaction to its adversaries' joint drills.

   South Korea's military said last week that it would conduct 48 field 
exercises with the U.S. forces this spring, twice the number conducted last 
year, and that they would involve live-firing, bombing, air assault and missile 
interception drills.

   Since early 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 rounds of missile 
tests to modernize its arsenal as talks with the United States and South Korea 
have been stalled for an extended period. In response, the United States and 
South Korea have expanded their training exercises and increased the deployment 
of powerful U.S military assets such as aircraft carriers and long-range 
nuclear-capable bombers.

   This year, North Korea carried out six rounds of missile tests and barrage 
of artillery firing drills. Its leader Kim Jong Un also said North Korea would 
scrap its long-standing goal of peaceful unification with South Korea and take 
a more aggressive military posture along the disputed sea boundary with South 
Korea. He also vowed to "annihilate" South Korea and the United States if 
provoked, a threat that he had previously issued.

   The North Korean steps raised worries that it might make provocations along 
the tense Korean sea and land borders. But experts say the prospect for a 
full-blown attack by North Korea is dim as the North knows its military is 
outmatched by U.S. and South Korean forces.

   North Korea's moves to raise tensions are likely related to upcoming 
elections planned by its rivals: the U.S. presidential election in November and 
South Korea's parliament election in April. North Korea believes an advanced 
nuclear arsenal will increase its leverage in future diplomacy and it can win 
concessions like the easing of international sanctions, experts say.

 
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