A South Korean marine takes aim with his rifle during training with U.S. Marines in Pohang, South Korea, March 29, 2023.

A South Korean marine takes aim with his rifle during training with U.S. Marines in Pohang, South Korea, March 29, 2023. (David Choi/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — North Korea on Tuesday condemned an ongoing, large-scale military exercise between the United States and South Korea and warned it could prompt “thermonuclear war” on the peninsula.

The two allies on Monday kicked off Ulchi Freedom Shield, 11 days of training designed to test their combined capabilities against North Korea’s military with more than 30 separate drills. The exercise includes seven other U.N. Command nations: Australia, Canada, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand.

Pyongyang refused to accept the training as defensive in nature and characterized it as “exercises for an actual war to invade the North,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.

The drills’ aggressive nature could prompt an “unprecedented large-scale thermonuclear war” on the Korean Peninsula, KCNA reported.

“The prevailing situation requires the Korean People's Army to take the initiative …,” the report said.

North Korea frequently describes U.S.-South Korean military exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion and vows to respond with war. It made a similar threat about nuclear war in July.

According to KCNA on July 20, North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam said a port call by the USS Kentucky at Busan, South Korea, two days earlier could be grounds for a preemptive nuclear strike. The Kentucky was the first U.S. submarine capable of launching nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles to stop at Busan in 42 years.

North Korea’s report Tuesday also took aim at a trilateral summit between President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday at Camp David, Md. The meeting ushered in “a new era of trilateral partnership” over security and economic matters in the region, the leaders said in a joint statement.

The three agreed their countries would hold annual, senior-level meetings and reiterated they are still open to negotiations with the North without preconditions, according to the statement.

“It is the product of a determination, fiercely held by each of us, that if we are to deliver a peaceful and prosperous future for our people, and the people of the Indo-Pacific, we must more often stand together,” the joint statement said. “Today, we declare that a new chapter in our trilateral relationship has begun.”

KCNA described the leaders as a “puppet group” and accused them of instigating a nuclear war. If the Camp David agreements are put into practice, the “outbreak of a thermonuclear war on the Korean Peninsula will become more realistic,” Tuesday’s report said.

North Korea’s threats come amid news reports that the communist regime may launch a military reconnaissance satellite Aug. 24-31. Kyodo News reported Tuesday that Japan’s government believed Pyongyang intends to launch a satellite after it failed to put one in orbit during a test on May 30.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now