US, S. Korea to start military drills amid tension with North

US, S. Korea to start military drills amid tension with North
US F-22 stealth fighters, second and third from left, fly with other fighters over the Nimitz-class USS George Washington for joint military exercises between the US and South Korea in South Korea's East Sea on July 26, 2010.

South Korea and the United States will begin eight weeks of joint military drills starting March 2, military officials said on Tuesday, an annual exercise that typically provokes heightened rhetoric and military threats from North Korea.

North Korea regularly protests the annual exercises, which it says are a rehearsal for war, and has recently stepped up its own air, sea and ground military exercises, amid a period of increased tensions between the rival Koreas.

Tuesday's statement by the joint US-South Korean Combined Forces Command said the North Korean army had been informed of the dates and "non-provocative nature" of the exercises.

On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told his Korean People's Army (KPA) commanders to focus on "combat readiness"this year, according to state media.

In 2013, following its third nuclear test, North Korea declared the armistice agreement which ended the 1950-53 war as"invalid" in response to the exercises.

The US responded with long-range nuclear-capable B-2 bomber flights over the Korean peninsular in a show of force it said was designed to show US ability to "conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will".

Overtures for dialogue by both Koreas in recent months have stalled, with Pyongyang describing inter-Korean relations as"inching close to a catastrophe," in a Tuesday editorial in the ruling Workers' Party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun.

The annual US-South Korean drills are divided into two phases: 'Key Resolve', which runs from March 2 to 13, and 'Foal Eagle', which runs from March 2 to April 24. 'Key Resolve' is a computer simulated command exercise;'Foal Eagle' includes actual "ground, air, naval, and special operations," field exercises, the statement said.

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