US and South Korea begin joint exercises amid attempts to reignite North Korea talks

Amid attempts to resume diplomatic dialogue with North Korea, the US and South Korea have began a joint aerial drill, a military official in Seoul said.

During the five-day-long annual air exercise, the two allies mobilised about 100 air assets, including F-15K and KF-16 jets from South Korea, and F-16s from the US, reported Yonhap News Agency on Monday, citing anonymous sources.

The drill — previously called Vigilant Ace — used to mobilise tens of thousands of troops, along with cutting-edge fighter jets, but has been scaled back since 2017 to facilitate peace efforts in the Korean Peninsula.

The allies carried out the drill in a low-key manner, with the South Korean Air Force declining to elaborate on the manoeuvres. “We cannot comment on the exercise as it is one that is not disclosed to the media,” an Air Force official said.

North Korea has long criticised the military drill between the allies as a rehearsal for war and used them as an excuse for provocations. Earlier in August, Pyongyang had severed inter-Korean hotlines when the allies held regular summer training in South Korea.

It comes shortly after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from the port city of Sinpo, during a series of weapon tests.

The US envoy for North Korea had called Pyongyang’s tests “concerning and counterproductive”, and urged Pyongyang to engage in talks.

“Our goal remains the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” Sung Kim said on 24 October. “That’s why Pyongyang’s recent ballistic missile test, one of several in the past six weeks, is concerning and counterproductive to making progress toward a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.”

But Pyongyang has rejected the overtures and accused the US and South Korea of talking about diplomacy while ratcheting up tensions in the region with their own military activities.

Additional reporting by agencies

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