The U.S. and South Korea began combined air force drills on Monday as a precursor for simulated strikes on North Korean nuclear and missile testing sites, South Korean military officials said.
According to Bloomberg, the the five-day joint air exercise on the Korean peninsula involved 230 aircraft and 12,000 American troops. North Korea dubbed the joint aerial drill the largest ever, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). North Korea labelled the drill an “all-out provocation”, days after the communist nation fired its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea had said that it would consider the “highest-level hard-line countermeasure in history,” according to the KCNA. It referred to a statement it made in September of a similar nature, in which North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said the countermeasure may include a ground-level test of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.
South Korean officials have said the drills were part of an annual exercise, planned before North Korea conducted its missile test last week.
South Korea’s defense ministry said that the exercise was “aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the U.S.”, according to Bloomberg.
Adding to tensions, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it was time to to move dependents of American service members out of South Korea owing to the potential for conflict. Over 28,000 United States troops are stationed there, many with their families.
“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea,” Mr. Graham told CBS’s Face the Nation.