The United States and South Korea kicked off their largest joint military exercises in years on Monday as they are bolstering their defense posture in the face of a growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

The moves could trigger an angry response from Pyongyang, which has pushed its weapons tests to an unprecedented speed this year while repeatedly threatening to spark conflict with Seoul and Washington over a prolonged deadlock in diplomatic efforts.

The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises will continue through September 1 in South Korea and include field exercises involving warplanes and ships, tanks and possibly tens of thousands of troops.

Although Washington and Seoul say their exercises are for defensive purposes only, North Korea says they are invasion tests that justify its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Cho Joong-hoon, a spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry, which is responsible for inter-Korean affairs, said Seoul has not detected any unusual activity on North Korean soil so far.

In recent years, the United States and South Korea have canceled some of their regular exercises and reduced others to computer simulations in order to make room for diplomatic efforts with North Korea, and also due to concerns related to the COVID pandemic. -19.

Ulchi Freedom Shield, which began alongside a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will reportedly include a simulation of joint attacks, frontline refueling and weapons removal, and the removal of weapons from massive destruction.

North Korea last week rejected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeok’s offer of economic benefits in exchange for steps toward North Korea’s denuclearization, accusing Seoul of recycling proposals that had previously been rejected.

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