South Korea's president appoints new military chief amid N. Korea tensions

North Korea warns of 'merciless strike' ahead of US-South Korea drills

Moon also reaffirmed he will support the military to reclaim wartime operational control from the U.S. and deploy the three-axis defense platform.

South Korea and the United States began annual war games on August 21, US Forces Korea said, amid heated warnings by Pyongyang that the exercises will worsen tensions in the region.

Unlike the March exercise, UFG doesn't include live fire drills and happens concurrently with drills by local governments and civil servants to prepare South Korea's civil defenses.

On the eve of the UFG drills, North Korea said the U.S. was "pouring gasoline on fire".

Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the U.S. within range.

North Korea had launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and announced a plan to strike near Guam with four mid-range missiles.

Around 25 Australian defence personnel are taking part in the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise, a large-scale simulated military operation staged regularly by US and South Korean military forces.

North Korea views such exercises as preparations for invasion and has fired missiles and taken other actions to show its anger over military drills in the past.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said Monday that North Korea must not use the drills as a pretext to launch fresh provocation, saying the training is held regularly because of repeated provocations by North Korea.

The North made a point past year, by testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile and three Scud missiles, before carrying out a nuclear test within days of the drill's conclusion.

And, the tensions were ratcheted up further when President Donald Trump made threats of fire and fury to North Korea. Russian Federation has also asked for the drills to stop but the USA has not backed down.

While the allies are pushing ahead with the exercises that date back to 1976, around 17,500 USA troops will participate in the drills - a cutback from a year ago.

The North responded by threatening to fire missiles toward the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam, but later said it was holding off while it waited to see what the United States would do next.

But U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday the smaller troop numbers were "by design to achieve the exercise objectives", denying suggestions Washington had cut them back to try to ease tensions with Pyongyang. He told reporters fewer troops were needed because of integrating some roles and emphasizing command post operations. "The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting", said an editorial carried by the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the USA mainland has fueled a surge in regional tension and United Nations -led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change its behavior.

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