USA troop reduction in exercise not due to North Korea concerns: Mattis

Frederick Owens
August 22, 2017

Officials said they're closely monitoring the changes in water levels.

"In the event of a missile launch towards the territory of Japan, Guam, United States, Korea, we would take immediate, specific actions to take it down", Mattis said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described the USA president's threat against the rogue nation as "speaking Kim Jong-un's language".

Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington heightened after US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leadership traded bellicose rhetoric, with both floating talk of military options.

The drills are largely computer-simulated war games held every summer and have drawn furious responses from North Korea. Past drills are understood to have included simulated "decapitation strikes", which see soldiers carry out trial operations to kill Kim Jong-un and his top generals.

North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper warned Sunday that the drills are "the most explicit expression of hostility" against it and an act of "adding fuel to the fire" on the divided peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday the joint drills are defensive in nature and not meant to raise tensions on the peninsula. Some 17,500 American troops will participate, down from 25,000 past year along with 50,000 South Koreans.

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Tensions around Pyongyang's missile program have flared up in the recent weeks, following the adoption of the UN Security Council sanctions, which led to North Korea trading threats and warnings with the United States.

Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the comments while visiting China. But, because of the increased attention on the Korean peninsula, North Korea's allies of China and Russian Federation are making louder calls to freeze these exercises in the interest of getting North Korea back to the table to talk about de-escalating aggression on the peninsula.

But its proposal for North Korea to suspend its arms programmes in return for the United States to halt military drills in the region has been ignored. Russian Federation has also asked for the drills to stop but the United States has not backed down.

"It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardise China's interests, China will respond with a firm hand", the paper read.

KCNA said the United States should not forget that its moves are being closely watched by North Korea.

"In the case of North Korea, we can't see everything in real time but the military deduces the locations of North Korean troops, including the leadership during the exercise". We have no intention at all to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula...

"North Korea should not exaggerate our efforts to keep peace nor should they engage in provocations that would worsen the situation, using (the exercise) as an excuse", he said.

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