United States and South Korea carried out military anti-terror and nuclear drills in a show of force against North Korea as fears of war escalated.
Armed forced dressed in red hazard suits and gas masks were seen running under armed police protection in a display of what nuclear war could look like.
A total of 17,500 troops from the US, South Korea, Britain, and elsewhere took part in the exercises in Goyang, South Korea, described as being “defensive in nature” to prepare for war against despot leader Kim Jong-un.
Donald Trump was accused of adding “gasoline to the fire” ahead of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises.
The US described the exercises as “defensive in nature” although North Korea dismissed their claims as a “deceptive mask”.
Dramatic pictures from the first day of the exercises show a variety of scenarios taking place including members of the South Korean Special Weapons Attack Team (SWAT) abseiling out of helicopters, police reacting to a chemical attack and armed police dealing with a hostage situation.
Along with Ulchi Freedom Guardian South Korea is also undertaking its own exercise in its parliament, based on the scenario of an attack from North Korea, with the building being evacuated.
Michelle Thomas, a US military spokeswoman, said: “It’s to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect ROK [Republic of Korea].”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the drills, that started today and last until the end of the month, were purely defensive and were not aimed at trying escalate tensions.
Mr Moon told a cabinet meeting: “There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature.
“North Korea should not exaggerate our efforts to keep peace nor should they engage in provocations that would worsen the situation, using (the exercise) as an excuse.”
There will be no field training during the current exercise, according to US Forces Korea.
In the past North Korea has viewed any military exercises as a provocative act, saying they are a preparation for invading the country.
China called for the exercises to be called off as well as saying North Korea should end its missile development.
Russia also said the exercises should not go ahead.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said North and South Korea and the United States all needed to make more effort to ease tension.
She said: “We think that South Korea and the United States holding joint drills is not beneficial to easing current tensions or efforts by all sides to promote talks.”
Britain will have about 30 military and civilian personnel involved in the exercises who will fill a variety of posts.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “This is a routine deployment to one of two long standing annual exercises in the Republic of Korea.
“As a UN Sending State, we have been taking part for several years in Ex Ulchi Freedom Guardian.
“Over the course of the exercise about 30 UK military and civilian personnel will participate in a variety of posts as part of United Nations Command. They will exercise alongside other Sending States personnel as well as those from the Republic of Korea and the United States.”
Ulchi Freedom Guardian comes after Donald Trump’s national security advisor threatened a “preventive war” against North Korea.
Lt General HR McMaster has raised the prospect of a “preventative war” against North Korea should diplomatic efforts fail.
“The president’s been very clear about it. He said he’s not going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States”
According to the General a preventative war would be a war that would stop North Korea threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon.
US President Donald Trump warned North Korea this month it would face “fire and fury” if it threatens the United States.
The North responded by threatening to fire missiles towards the US Pacific island territory of Guam, but later said it was holding off while it waited to see what the United States would do next.
The United States has about 28,000 troops in South Korea. About 17,500 US service members are participating in the exercise this month, down from 25,000 last year, according to the Pentagon.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday the reduction in the number of US troops taking part reflected a need for fewer personnel and was not because of tension with North Korea.