U.S. troops in South Korea and their local counterparts recently practiced identifying and destroying North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) during a joint training exercise, the American military announced this week.
The drill took place last week at the U.S. military Camp Stanley and the American armed forces complex known as the Rodriguez Live Fire Range, both close to the North Korean border, the Chosun Ilbo reports.
During the exercise, “troops from the two countries practiced identifying and destroying the North’s WMD facilities through urban combat and infiltration of underground facilities,” the South Korean newspaper adds.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Korea (UFK), also revealed that the American troops staged a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense drill last week at their headquarters near the North Korean border in Gyeonggi Province, the Chosun Ilbo notes in a separate article.
THAAD is a “globally-transportable, rapidly-deployable” system designed to intercept and shoot down ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during their terminal phase of flight, according to the Pentagon.
“Basically, THAAD is a mobile anti-missile defense system. The USFK’s latest exercise in Pyeongtaek seems intended to send a message that the U.S. will defend its key facilities here,” an unnamed South Korean military official told the Chosun Ilbo.
American troops “practiced with inert missiles. That suggests the brigade moved one Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery to the camp from its base in southwestern Korea,” the newspaper points out.
The USFK spokesman indicated that the exercise is expected to improve the American troops’ capabilities to operate the THAAD system.
U.S. forces have already “staged several THAAD exercises this year,” the Chosun Ilbo reveals.
American troops have reportedly been stepping up pressure on North Korea by flexing its military muscle since the second denuclearization summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un collapsed in Vietnam in February.
The recent exercises came as North Korea announced last Wednesday the test of a “new tactical guided weapon” with a “powerful warhead,” marking the first weapons test since the second failed summit and a testament to the deteriorating Trump-Kim relations.
According to the New York Times, the test amounts to a “warning from Kim Jong-un to President Trump that unless once-promising negotiations with Washington resume, the two countries could again be on a collision course.”
Duyeon Kim of the Center for a New American Security described the new missile test as “a domestic message to assure the North Korean people and military elite that summitry won’t affect their national defense and strength,” the Washington Post noted last week.
On Tuesday, the Kim regime confirmed that the dictator will soon visit America’s strategic rival Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin in a separate summit that comes amid the strained U.S.-North Korea relationship.
U.S. military and intelligence officials consider North Korea a significant threat against the United States given its alleged ability to strike the American mainland with a missile that could potentially carry a nuclear payload.
Dr. Victor Cha, a former U.S. official who now serves as the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), told lawmakers last month that Trump “may have avoided getting entrapped into a bad deal” by refusing to accept Kim’s scant denuclearization offer in exchange for major sanctions at the summit.
The Trump administration has vowed to continue negotiations with North Korea towards the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions and security assurances from the United States. However, Trump officials have also pledged to maintain the financial pressure campaign on the rogue regime until it takes verifiable steps towards denuclearization.
So far, two unprecedented meetings between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader — at Singapore in June 2018 and in Vietnam in late February 2019 — have failed to deliver an agreement on denuclearization.
Echoing a U.S. intelligence community assessment presented to the American Congress earlier this year, Cha and other experts noted that North Korea continues with its nuclear activities despite the negotiations.
While testifying alongside Cha in March, Kelly Magsamen from the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) told lawmakers in March:
After two U.S.-North Korea summits in Singapore and Hanoi, North Korea still has upwards of 60 nuclear weapons and is continuing to accumulate fissile material to make more. It retains the ballistic missile capability to threaten Hawaii, Alaska, the West Coast, and of course, our ally Japan and has proven the capability to range most of the continental United States.
And North Korea retains a conventional capacity to put South Korea at unacceptable risk. In sum, the threat has not changed.
Cha and Magsamen agreed that the ongoing economic pressure imposed on North Korea is having a positive impact on negotiations. Unlike his predecessors, Trump has refused to budge an inch over sanctions.