SEOUL, South Korea - On Monday, hundreds of aircrafts and dozens of stealth jets led the beginning of the five-day drills called Vigilant Ace - the biggest-ever combined air force exercise between U.S. and South Korea.
South Korea's defense ministry has said that the exercise, that comes a week after North Korea test-fired its most powerful missile, an ICBM that is capable of targeting the eastern seaboard of the U.S., it is said to be aimed at improving the allies' wartime capabilities.
As part of the exercise, the U.S. Seventh Air Force is said to have sent major strategic military assets that include six F-22 Rapor stealth fighters and 18 F-35 stealth fighter jets for the annual training exercise in the Korean Peninsula.
Officials said that about 12,000 U.S. military personnel are participating in the exercise.
Some reports noted that B-1B bombers will also join aerial drills, however, officials have not confirmed the reports.
Lashing out at the drills, North Korea's state media said the joint drill pushes the Korean Peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war” and is proof that the U.S. is “begging for a nuclear war.”
Citing a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said, “Should the Korean peninsula and the world be embroiled in the crucible of nuclear war because of the reckless nuclear war mania of the U.S., the U.S. will have to accept full responsibility for it.”
North Korea believes that U.S.-South Korean drills are a preparation for invasion.
With tensions tipping over a particularly dangerous point as North Korea edges toward its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, and U.S. President Donald Trump using aggressive rhetoric toward the North, threatening “fire and fury” toward the country amongst other.
On Sunday, a day before the start of the exercises, Korean Central News Agency said that Pyongyang will “seriously consider” countermeasures against the drill, and the U.S. and South Korea will “pay dearly for their provocations.”
The same day, Lindsey Graham, a U.S. senator from the state of South Carolina, said he believes that it's time for U.S. military families in South Korea to leave the country because the conflict with North Korea is getting close.
So far, the U.S. government has not announced a formal decision to evacuate U.S. citizens from South Korea, and there were no such signs in the diplomatic community in Seoul.
Currently, about 28,500 U.S. troops operate in South Korea, and many come to their posts with their families.
The White House national security adviser has said that Trump will take care of North Korean threats by “doing more ourselves.”
General H.R. McMaster said, “The priorities that the president's given us to move as quickly as we can to resolve this crisis with North Korea. If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because he has said he's not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States.”