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US military 'locked and loaded' Trump tells North Korea

UN Command honour guards carry flags of the US, UN and South Korea at Yongsan Garrison American military base in Seoul, South Korea PICTURE: Lee Jin-man/AP
Jonathan Lemire and Eric Talmadge

PRESIDENT Donald Trump has tweeted that the US military is "locked and loaded" as he warned North Korea over its continuing threats.

American and South Korean officials said they would move forward with large-scale military exercises later this month that North Korea, which has laid out plans to strike near the US territory of Guam, claims are a rehearsal for war.

President Trump tweeted on Friday morning: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path."

Two days after North Korea laid out its plans to strike near Guam with unsettling specificity, there was no observable march toward combat, despite the angry rhetoric from both sides.

US officials said there was no major movement of US military assets to the region, nor were there signs Pyongyang was actively preparing for war.

As it is, the US has a robust military presence in the region, including six B-1 bombers in Guam and Air Force fighter jet units in South Korea, plus other assets across the Pacific Ocean and in the skies above.

Washington's vast military options range from nothing to a full-on conventional assault by air, sea and ground forces. Any order by the president could be executed quickly.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to President Trump's tweet, saying she sees no military solution to North Korea crisis.

Ms Merkel declined to say whether Germany would stand with the US in case of a military conflict with North Korea.

She said, "I don't see a military solution and I don't think it's called for."

Ms Merkel called on the UN Security Council to continue to address the issue.

She added: "I think escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer."

The U.S.-South Korea exercises are an annual event, but they come as Pyongyang says it is readying a plan to fire off four Hwasong-12 missiles toward the tiny island, which is US territory and major military hub.

The plan would be sent to leader Kim Jong Un for approval just before or as the U.S.-South Korea drills begin.

Called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the exercises are expected to run from August 21-31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air.

Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive in nature and crucial to maintaining a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

Defence officials in Seoul confirmed that the exercises are expected to begin without any delays, but refused to provide further details.

According to the US Department of Defence, Ulchi-Freedom Guardian involves about 40,000 troops, along with civilian South Korean government personnel who train their civil defence responses.

The possibility of escalation is made even more acute by the lack of any means of official communication across the Demilitarized Zone, though there has been no easing of the barrage of inflammatory comments in the US and the North since new sanctions against North Korea were announced last week.

Keeping up the tough talk on Thursday from his New Jersey golf resort where he is on a working vacation, President Trump warned Kim Jong Un's government to "get their act together" or face extraordinary trouble, and suggested his threat on Tuesday to unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea was too mild.

"North Korea better get their act together, or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble," President Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence.

Accusing his predecessors of insufficient action, President Trump said it was time somebody stood up to Kim Jong Un.

Though tensions have been building for months amid new missile tests by the North, including the launch of its first intercontinental ballistic missile, the pace has intensified since the UN Security Council on Saturday passed sweeping new sanctions President Trump had requested.

AP

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