U.S. and South Korean military units will begin the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise Monday, the Defense Department announced today.
The exercise will run through Aug. 31, and is "designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula," according to a DOD statement. Approximately 17,500 U.S. troops will take part, with about 3,000 coming from off-peninsula.
In addition to South Korean and U.S. forces, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom will also participate in the exercise.
This year's Ulchi Freedom Guardian comes in the wake of North Korea's recent ballistic missile flight tests and news reports of that country's purported ability to fit a nuclear warhead onto its missiles.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said a "military solution" does exist in the event one is needed:
"Do I have military options? Of course, I do. That's my responsibility, to have those. And we work very closely with allies to ensure that this is not unilateral either . . . and of course there's a military solution," he told reporters on a flight to Seattle, per a Pentagon readout.
Mattis stressed, however, that the Trump administration is pursuing its goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula via diplomatic means.
"We want to use diplomacy. That's where we've been, that's where we are right now and that's where we hope to remain," he said. "But at the same time, our defenses are robust."