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U.S. commander says upcoming joint air drill with S. Korea, Japan is 'routine training'

Defense 14:56 June 04, 2021

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- An upcoming U.S.-led multinational air force exercise set to be joined by South Korea and Japan is "routine training" not meant to destabilize the region, the U.S. Air Force's Pacific commander said Friday, following North Korea's criticism of the drills as "belligerent" and "invasive."

In a telephone conference with reporters, Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach also said North Korea had significant developments in its missile capability, singling out the reclusive regime along with China and Russia as countries "in competition with" the U.S. that cause concerns in the region.

The remarks were made one day after a North Korean propaganda outlet denounced Seoul's decision to send F-15K fighter jets, cargo planes and dozens of troops to join the Red Flag-Alaska 21-2 exercise slated to kick off next week, saying the South Korean military is "going through fire and water" for the U.S.

"It shouldn't be seen as anything other than routine training," the commander said. "It is not, in any way, meant to be escalatory to the region or destabilizing to the region."

The planned event will be the first major combined military exercise involving the U.S., South Korea and Japan under the Joe Biden administration, which has called for the improvement in security ties between Seoul and Tokyo to better deal with North Korea and China.

Referring to "significant development" in missile capabilities by North Korea, China and Russia, Wilsbach said his country is continuously improving missile defense systems, such as THAAD, "to account for advancements in the threat that we perceive."

Asked if there was any change in Washington's approach to North Korea following the launch of the Biden administration, the general said, "What we have been executing from a strategy with respect to North Korea during the Trump administration, we're executing that same strategy with the Biden administration."

"We have a very strong relationship with the Republic of Korea and the Combined Forces Command is very tight," he added, referring to South Korea by its official name.

This file photo, downloaded from the U.S. 7th Air Force website, shows an F-35A Lightning II (L), assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and an F-16 Fighting Falcon, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, flying over Denali National Park in Alaska, on Aug. 17, 2020, during the Red Flag-Alaska 20-3 Training. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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