WASHINGTON — Military officials said Friday they plan to move ahead with large-scale U.S.-South Korea exercises later this month that North Korea, now finalizing plans to launch a salvo of missiles toward Guam, claims are a rehearsal for war.
The exercises are an annual event, but come as Pyongyang says it is readying a plan to fire off four Hwasong-12 missiles toward the tiny island, which is U.S. territory and major military hub. The plan would be sent to leader Kim Jong Un for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea drills begin.
Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run from Aug. 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air. Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive in nature and crucial to maintaining a deterrent against North Korean aggression.
The exercises were scheduled well before tensions began to rise following North Korea’s announcement of the missile plan, which if carried out would be its most provocative launch yet. Along with a bigger set of maneuvers held every spring, the exercises are routinely met by strong condemnation and threats of countermeasures from North Korea.
U.S. military forces on Guam said this week they are at the ready just in case North Korea does in fact take action.
Residents on the island have mixed feelings on how worried they should be that the latest war of words might result in an actual war.
“It’s pretty scary,” one person told CBS News.
“Ehh, if they threaten us, bring it. The US is strong,” said another.
That’s a sentiment President Donald Trump echoed Thursday at his golf club in New Jersey.
“He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen to North Korea.”
He waned the government to “get their act together” or face extraordinary trouble, and suggested his earlier threat to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea was too mild.
President Trump declined to say whether the U.S. is considering a pre-emptive military strike as he spoke to reporters before a briefing with his top national security advisers.
The president insisted the North had been “getting away with a tragedy that can’t be allowed.”
“North Korea better get their act together, or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble,” Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence. Accusing his predecessors of insufficient action, Trump said it was time somebody stood up to Kim Jong Un.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that while the military is prepared, he’s still optimistic about a peaceful resolution.
“You can see the American effort is diplomatically led.”
President Trump said the U.S. will increase its budget for anti-missile technology by “billions of dollars”. He also said he’s optimistic that China, North Korea’s primary trade partner, will step up and do more to help resolve the situation. The president even hinted such help might loosen his firm stance against China’s trade policy with the US.