15,000 American soldiers and 290,000 of their South Korean counterparts will simulate the invasion of a collapsed North Korea in early March, as part of two military drills named Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. North Korea’s communist dictatorship has responded to the proposed largest-ever drill with threats of a preemptive strike.
The Telegraph reports both drills will occur on March 7, and both America and South Korea are doubling the number of troops they usually commit to their annual joint exercises. “The US will deploy a combat aviation brigade to South Korea for the duration of the manoeuvres, as well as a mobile US Marine brigade, an aircraft carrier and its attendant fleet, a nuclear-powered submarine and aeriel tankers to refuel fighter aircraft,” the report notes. The Daily Mail suggests that, while the number of U.S. troops is twice that expected for this particular operation, it is more in the territory of four times the number of troops the United States typically commits to similar endeavors.
Officials in Seoul have said that they are holding the drills to make an increasingly alarmed South Korean public feel more secure, as well as send a message to Pyongyang following the latter’s claim that it detonated a hydrogen bomb in January. Most experts believe the actual weapon used was a hybrid atomic weapon much weaker than a standard hydrogen fusion bomb. The South Korean government also issued a statement Tuesday ensuring it would “firmly respond to North Korea’s reckless provocations” after a statement from Pyongyang dismissing South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a warmongering “senile granny.”
In addition to holding their annual drill together, South Korean and American officials met Tuesday, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, to discuss “ways to strengthen sanctions on North Korea.” In addition to the alleged nuclear test, North Korea launched a “satellite” into space earlier this month. As there is no evidence that the object is currently functioning in its orbit, many believe the objective of the event was to test the rocket that placed the satellite into orbit, not to lodge the satellite there. The long-range rocket can be weaponized easily and may threaten American territories. Dictator Kim Jong-un has since called for more rocket launches in the coming months.
In response to next month’s military drills, Pyongyang has issued as statement threatening a preemptive attack on either South Korea or the United States. “All the powerful strategic and tactical strike means of our revolutionary armed forces will go into preemptive and just operation to beat back the enemy forces to the last man if there is a slight sign of their special operation forces and equipment moving to carry out the so-called ‘beheading operation’ and ‘high-density strike,'” the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army said in a statement. To corroborate its threats, it specified American bases in Asia as potential targets for this attack.
North Korea’s growing military belligerence follows reports that dictator Kim has become increasingly paranoid and unstable. “Kim Jong Un, they say, is now desperate to show his deputies who’s the boss in North Korea,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported this month. Noting that Kim has increasingly taken to executing those around him that pose a threat to his authority, the report notes that, “according to South Korean intelligence sources, the young dictator feels additional pressure trying to impress the older and more experienced heavyweights in the Workers’ Party.”
The most recent high-profile execution in Kim’s cabinet appeared to occur early in the year, with reports surfacing in mid-February. Ri Yong-gil, North Korea’s army chief of General Staff, is believed to have been killed after reports surfaced that he may have mismanaged money for personal gain. Ri disappeared from the public eye more than a month before Reuters confirmed his death with a North Korean source. As with most executions of high-ranking officials, the North Korean government has not issued a statement or acknowledged the matter in any way.