Seoul: South Korea and the United States together launched a massive joint military exercise on Tuesday, prompting the North to condemn the manoeuvres as provocative and warn that "all-out war" could erupt.
The two allies described this 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise as a defensive routine but the North habitually terms such joint drills a rehearsal for invasion and launches its own counter-exercises.
"The exercise started this morning," a spokesman of the US-South Korea Combined Forces Command (CFC) told a news agency, referring to the annual computer-assisted simulation command-post exercise.
All of CFC`s major units are taking part, involving more than 530,000 troops, including some 3,000 military personnel from the United States and other bases around the Pacific region, CFC said.
US General James D. Thurman, Combined Forces Command Commander, said the drill was focused on "preparing, preventing and prevailing against the full range of current and future external threats" to South Korea and the region.
"We are applying lessons learned out of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those garnered by the Alliance`s recent experiences with North Korean provocations on the peninsula and past exercises," he added.
Pyongyang condemned these exercises as "extremely provocative", calling it a preparation for an "all-out war" against the North and the "largest-ever nuclear war exercise".
"The Korean peninsula is faced with the worst crisis ever. An all-out war can be triggered by any accidents," the North`s ruling communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary.
Seoul and Washington wanted to use the latest exercises to build up their capability to mount surprise attacks on the North`s nuclear and missile facilities, it said.
"The US war-mongers are planning to carry out a realistic war drill to remove our nuclear facilities with a mobile unit led by the US 20th Support Command which was sent to Iraq to find and disable weapons of mass destruction," it added.