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South Korea, U.S. quietly hold joint air exercises amid calls for talks with North Korea -Breaking

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – The South Korean flag and the American flag fly together at Yongin (South Korea), August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S.

Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – On Monday, South Korea and America began joint aerial drills, a Seoul military official said. This was amid tensions surrounding North Korea’s missile test and calls to reopen denuclearisation negotiations.

Vigilant Ace was once called Vigilant Ace. It used to mobilize tens or thousands of troops, hundreds of fighter jets and bombers, as well as other warplanes.

The program has been reduced since 2017, in order to allow for talks to end Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs, in exchange for U.S. sanction relief.

Allies initiated the drills which are expected to last for five days without any announcements or names. Yonhap reported that about 100 aircraft from both sides were sent, with South Korea’s F-15Ks and KF-16s as well as the U.S. F-16s. But, there was no American equipment or soldier joining the exercise.

Spokesman for South Korean air forces declined to confirm this report.

These drills took place after North Korea had fired its latest weapon test, a submarine-launched missile.

This reclusive nation views South Korean exercises as war rehearsals. It cut inter-Korean hotlines in August when allies had regular summer training, accusing Seoul for “perfidious behavior”.

Sung Kim was the U.S. Envoy to North Korea and condemned the testing as “concerning” and counterproductive during his trip to Seoul last week. He urged Pyongyang not to reject offers for talks.

North Korea has rejected U.S. requests so far. The North accuses Washington, Seoul and Seoul of “double standard” in criticising North Korea’s weapon programmes and talking diplomatically while provoking tension through their military operations.

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