North Korea warned that the United States will be “pouring gasoline on fire” by conducting an annual war game in the South this week amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, Agence France-Presse reports.
Combative rhetoric between the nations spiked after Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range, sparking an intense warning by US President Donald Trump that Washington could rain “fire and fury” on the North, the news agency said.
Pyongyang then threatened to fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam – a plan that leader Kim Jong-un last week delayed, but warned could go ahead depending on Washington’s next move.
Amid the fiery volley of threats, Seoul and Washington will begin Monday the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” (UFG) joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops that Pyongyang views as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion.
“The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won’t evolve into actual fighting,” said an editorial carried by the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
“The Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercises will be like pouring gasoline on fire and worsen the state of the peninsula,” AFP quoted the paper sas saying.
Warning of an “uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war” on the peninsula, it added: “If the United States is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else’s doorstep far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever.”
Seoul and Washington have said the largely computer-simulated UFG exercise, which dates back to 1976, will go ahead as planned.
About 17,500 US service members are participating in the joint exercise, down from 25,000 last year, Reuters reported, citing the Pentagon.
But the reduction simply reflects a need for fewer personnel and is not because of tensions with North Korea, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday.
Mattis told reporters while traveling to Jordan that the exercise had been planned months in advance and the focus this year was on integration operations.
“The numbers are by design to achieve the exercise objectives and you always pick what you want to emphasize,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
“Right now there is a heavy emphasis on command post operations, so the integration of all the different efforts.”
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