US and South Korean troops have started conducting live-fire exercises this week to respond to possible 'Hamas-style surprise artillery attacks' by North Korea, according to South Korea's military on Friday.
Although the two allies conduct live-fire and other training regularly, this week's drills come amid heightened concerns after a brutal and unprecedented attack by Hamas militants on Israel on October 7 that killed at least 1,400 people. The attack raised security concerns in South Korea, which shares a heavily fortified border with its arch-rival North Korea.
The three-day firing exercises began on Wednesday, involving 5,400 South Korean and US soldiers, 300 artillery systems, 1,000 vehicles and air force assets, according to South Korea's military. The exercises practiced strikes to "remove the origins of the enemy's long-range artillery provocations at an early date" to simulate a response to "possible Hamas-style surprise attacks".
North Korea has not responded to the latest stage of military exercises, although it has threatened nuclear action several times against US-South Korean drills, which it sees as a 'rehearsal for invasion'.
Experts claim that the North's forward-deployed long-range artillery guns can fire about 16,000 rounds per hour in the event of a conflict, posing a serious threat to Seoul, which is about 40-50 kilometres (25-30 miles) from the border.
Tensions with North Korea
North Korea has argued that it has been forced to develop nuclear weapons in the face of a possible invasion by the US and South Korea. In spite of its increasing threats to use such weapons, Pyongyang is still outgunned by the US and South Korean forces and is unlikely to use its nuclear arms first, even as it will continue to develop them.
Many experts say North Korea heightens tensions with its rivals to provide a pretext for expanding its nuclear arsenal and then uses the arms as leverage to wrest greater outside concessions. Pyongyang has conducted over 100 missile tests for 'preparing' against US-South Korean military drills.
Recently, Pyongyang again threatened nuclear action after the US deployed an aircraft carrier group to South Korea's Busan port. The USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group arrived in the southeastern port of Busan after a naval exercise between the United States, Japan and South Korea earlier this month.
The North Korean state-controlled media called the carrier's arrival "an undisguised military provocation" that proves the realisation of an imminent US plan to attack Pyongyang. It also accused of US of spreading a "groundless and false rumour" of Hamas using North Korean weapons on Israel recently.
In response, the US and South Korea have warned that any attempt by North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in the end of the North's government led by Kim Jong Un.
Since last year, North Korea has carried out more than 100 missile tests, some of them simulated nuclear attacks on South Korea and the US, causing the two allies to expand their regular military drills.
(with AP inputs)