Joint exercises may send Korea tensions soaring again
Joint exercises may send Korea tensions soaring again
Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range, triggering an intense warning by US President Donald Trump that Washington could rain “fire and fury” on the North.
Pyongyang then threatened to fire a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam — a plan that leader Kim Jong-un this week delayed, but warned could go ahead depending on Washington’s next move.
The North’s reaction to the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” (UFG) joint military exercise that starts Monday will be key to determining what happens next.
The annual drills — described as defensive and named after a general who protected an ancient Korean kingdom from Chinese invaders — will involve about 50,000 South Korean and 17,500 US troops, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Friday.
But Pyongyang views them as a highly provocative rehearsal for an invasion of its own territory, and threatens strong military counteraction each year.
The North said the Guam missile strike could be reinstated in the event of “reckless actions” by Washington, and analysts say the exercise could become an alarming flash point.
“I worry it might enact this plan when the joint exercises start,” said James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
North Korea has repeatedly called for an end to large-scale joint military exercises between the allies in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear and missile programs.
In the early 1990s Seoul and Washington agreed to cancel a drill then known as Team Spirit in return for the North allowing an inspection of its secret nuclear facilities — only to see Pyongyang later walk away and resume its weapons development.
Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specializing in nuclear strategy, warned against another suspension.
“Cancelling it would cede into the huge North Korean aim to decouple the allies and drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States,” Narang told AFP.
Pushing through with the drills is essential for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s promise to “prevent war at all cost,” said Choi Kang of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies.
“Seoul will say the current tensions call for an even stronger alliance and closer military cooperation,” he said.
The US State Department said this week the largely computer-simulated UFG exercise, which dates back to 1976, will go ahead as planned.
But it declined to comment on whether the drills would be scaled back in an effort to ease tensions.
The US troop numbers given by Seoul’s Defense Ministry represent a cutback from last year, when 25,000 were involved.
The allies could look to make a conciliatory gesture toward Pyongyang by not involving US strategic assets such as stealth bombers or aircraft carriers, said Koo Kab-Woo, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.
Supersonic B-1B bombers from the US Pacific Command’s Andersen Air Force Base in Guam are often flown over the peninsula for joint exercises and to demonstrate Washington’s “full range of military capabilities” — always infuriating Pyongyang.
When North Korean leader Kim delayed his Guam missile plan, he warned the US to end its “arrogant provocations” and referred to what he called “huge nuclear strategic equipment” being brought to the region.
In an ideal scenario, Acton said, the two sides would agree that North Korea could not carry out missile tests that overfly South Korea or Japan — which would preclude them getting anywhere near Guam — in exchange for the US ending strategic bomber training flights within an agreed distance of the North.
North Korea appears to have left open some room for a quid pro quo, added Narang.
Any negotiation for a quiet agreement to reduce the frequency and range of the B-1B flights “doesn’t have to be terribly public and it could be behind the scene,” he said. “I think it’s reasonable to think that might go somewhere.”
Five dead following US Border Patrol car chase in Texas
- The chase began after a Border Patrol agent noticed three vehicles traveling in a caravan and suspected smuggling
- Four victims were pronounced dead on the scene and a fifth was pronounced dead after being airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio
BIG WELLS, Texas: Five immigrants died and several others were injured on Sunday when their vehicle careened out of control while being chased by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas about 90 miles (145 km) north of the Mexican border, officials said.
Some of the injured were ejected from a Chevy Suburban packed with 14 people that was traveling up to 100 miles per hour (160 kph), Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd told reporters.
The sport utility vehicle skidded off the road and then attempted to get back onto the highway, but the driver overcorrected and the vehicle flipped over, ejecting several people, Boyd said.
"We've seen this many, many times, in not only this county but other counties along the border," Boyd said. "This is a perfect example of why our borders need to be secure."
The chase began after a Border Patrol agent noticed three vehicles traveling in a caravan and suspected smuggling, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. Border Patrol agents stopped two of the vehicles and made multiple arrests, but the third vehicle continued, the statement said.
"The driver did not stop and the attempt to stop the vehicle was taken over by a Dimmit County Sheriff's office deputy. The vehicle rolled over a short distance later on highway 85 near Big Wells, resulting in multiple injuries and fatalities," the statement said.
Four victims were pronounced dead on the scene and a fifth was pronounced dead after being airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio, Boyd said. A sixth person was in very critical condition with potentially life-threatening injuries, he said.
Television images showed the smashed vehicle missing at least two wheels, with debris strewn across the road at the Big Wells city limit.
The driver, who was not hurt, was arrested, Boyd said. It was not immediately clear what charges he will face.