SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States wrapped up a major combined military exercise Thursday, Seoul officials said, in a conclusion highlighting their pursuit of stronger deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
The allies completed the Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise, which kicked off Aug. 22, despite North Korean state media slamming the annual drills as a rehearsal for war against the reclusive regime.
The exercise involved more than a dozen field training events in line with the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s commitment to “normalizing” drills scaled back or suspended under the former liberal Moon Jae-in administration’s drive for peace.
Based on an all-out war concept, the exercise entailed three key elements — the computer-simulation command post exercise, field training and the South Korean government’s Ulchi civil defense drills
It proceeded in two major parts — the first segment involving drills on repelling North Korean attacks and defending the greater Seoul area, with the second part focusing on counterattack operations.
Gen. Ahn Byung-Seok, the deputy commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, led the entire exercise to conduct a key capability assessment required for the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to Seoul from Washington.
The full operational capability assessment is the second part of the three-stage program to vet the South’s capabilities to lead combined forces. The program is part of numerous conditions required for the OPCON handover.
Throughout the exercise, the allies maintained tight vigilance amid concerns that the North could engage in provocative acts, like a nuclear test or missile launch, on the pretext of responding to the drills.