SEOUL: (APP) South Korea and the United States kicked off their annual, massive military exercises on Wednesday as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered his troops to prepare for a "merciless strike" against the enemy forces.
The drills always raise tensions on the divided Korean peninsula and this year they come after the North's recent ballistic missile test and the assassination by nerve agent of Kim's half brother in Malaysia.
Participation in the joint exercises -- known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle -- is similar to last year, a United States Forces Korea spokesman said.
The 2016 drills involved 300,000 South Korean and around 17,000 US troops, as well as strategic US naval vessels and air force assets.
The spokesman said 3,600 US troops have been deployed for the Foal Eagle exercises, the first of the two drills that stretch over two months, but declined to provide a total figure.
South Korean Defence Minister Han Min-Koo "stressed the need to bolster the drills" in a phone call with his US counterpart James Mattis, who vowed "effective and overwhelming response" against any use of nuclear weapons, Seoul's defence ministry said in a statement.