The U.S.-South Korean joint military drills currently taking place on the peninsula have resumed following a brief suspension, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear said during a press briefing on Friday.
Shear told reporters that the suspension was enacted to coordinate with the South Korean military over the exchange of fire that had occurred across the North-South border on Thursday.
“We suspended part of the exercises temporarily in order to allow our side to coordinate with the (South Korean) side on the subject of the exchange of artillery fire across the DMZ,” Shear told journalists.
Shear said that the planned Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise “has resumed as planned and we are conducting the exercise as planned” and that the U.S. forces remain at an “enhanced status” due to the current situation on the peninsula.
Tensions between North and South Korea have entered a heightened state in recent days following a series of events stemming from an incident on August 4 that saw two South Korean soldiers severely wounded by a mine explosion along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The South Korean government and UN Command claimed North Korea soldiers intentionally placed the mine on the path known to be used by South Korean patrols.
In response, South Korea renewed anti-North Korean propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ, which has angered North Korea and led to a brief exchange of fire between the two countries on Thursday, albeit with no reported casualties.
North Korea subsequently issued an ultimatum that the broadcasts be stopped before 5 p.m. Korean Standard Time or military action will follow. North Korea has also repeatedly called for the cancellation of all U.S.-South Korean joint military drills, which it claims are a precursor and preparations for an invasion of the North.
Following the escalation in tensions and Thursday’s exchange of fire, South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited the headquarters of the Third Army on Friday, which overseas South Korean forces on the western front.
Park issued strong words, calling on the South Korean military to respond forcefully and decisively to North Korean military activity.
“If North Korea does carry out another provocation, I ask that you strike first. Like I’ve said many times before I trust our military’s judgement,” Park said on Friday.
“Our military has shown its will for a strong response and I believe that winning in the mind leads to winning in reality,” Park added.
“Parks’ call for the military to ‘strike first’ in the event of another provocation is likely related to the fact that it took about an hour for the South to complete its military response on Thursday,” NK News’ military analyst John Grisafi said on Friday.
“On Thursday, the unit in the area waited for administrative approval before conducting it’s retaliation. Park’s statement appears to be a directive to forego top-level approval and for local commanders to make decisions on their own, lowering the response time.”
During his press briefing on Friday, Shear also sought to reinforce the U.S. commitment to its South Korean allies in the face of North Korean threats.
Despite the escalation of tensions and North Korean media reports that it’s troops have entered a state of war, observers are skeptical of the rhetoric and that current developments will result in war.
“Do we think that the North Korean authorities, with all their experience and guile, will permit their relatively weak (but nevertheless credibly nuclear armed) state to go to conventional war in the run up to October 10?” Chris Green, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Leiden, told NK News on Friday. October 10 marks the 70th anniversary of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), North Korea’s ruling party.
“Who would commit suicide the week before their 70th birthday?” Green said.
“The only person who would commit suicide in such circumstances is the pauper who sees no alternative. Whatever one may think of the North Korean economy and governance structure, they do not appear to be at the point of no return.”
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