Tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops launched a fresh round of military drills Monday despite North Korea's warning that it would retaliate with a "merciless counterblow" for the exercises Pyongyang considers rehearsal for invasion.
The 11-day drills, dubbed Ulchi Freedom Guardian, are annual computer-simulated war games that involve about 56,000 South Korean soldiers and 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and abroad, South Korea's Defense Ministry and the US command in Seoul said Monday.
They follow massive joint naval drills last month off South Korea's east coast that Washington and Seoul said were a show of unity following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March. The allies blame North Korea for the torpedo attack that killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies involvement.
North Korea vowed harsh retaliation for those drills as well. Pyongyang has for years threatened the South with destruction, though it has never followed through with an all-out military assault since the Korean War ended in 1953.
Seoul and Washington say the routine military drills are purely defensive, while North Korea calls them preparation for an attack.