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S. Korea, US kick off major naval drills
A massive U.S. aircraft carrier launched large-scale naval maneuvers Sunday with South Korea off the Korean Peninsula’s west coast, military officials said, days after North Korea bombarded an inhabited southern island, in a potent show of force that North Korea threatened could lead to the “brink of war.”
“The drills started around 6 a.m. Sunday with the USS George Washington joining our warships in the Yellow Sea,” said an official at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), adding the drills are taking place off the west coast town of Taean, far south of the tense Yellow Sea border where Tuesday’s attack took place.
The nuclear-powered USS George Washington, with over 6,000 sailors and 75 fighter jets aboard, was heading for the Yellow Sea waters for the military drills that are to run through Wednesday. About 10 warships from the allies were also mobilized.
Military tensions on the peninsula have flared up following North Korea’s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island that killed four people — two marines and two civilians — near the tense Yellow Sea border. A barrage of artillery shells destroyed a military base and civilian homes on the small island, which lies only some 20 kilometers from North Korea.
The surprise daylight attack drew international condemnation, and anger is running high among South Koreans as the communist regime of Kim Jong-il targeted civilians on the South’s territory for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea’s military officials said this week’s exercises would be more intensive than initially planned.
“The intensity for the Yellow Sea drills will be higher than planned,” said another official at the South’s JCS. “Participating troops will conduct live-fire shooting and bombing drills.”
China, the North’s last remaining ally, has shied away from condemning North Korea for last week’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island and kept its stance of objecting to any foreign military exercises off its coast.
U.S. officials said the drills are “defensive in nature,” but the show of force will serve as a “deterrence” against North Korea, which has rattled the peninsula for years with its missile and nuclear tests.
North Korea has stepped up its rhetoric against the drills.
“Gone are the days when verbal warnings are served only,” a North Korean state agency said in a statement carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency. “Escalated confrontation would lead to a war.”
North Korea is “getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies if they dare to encroach again upon the” North’s territory, said the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the state agency in charge of relations with the South.
On the eve of the drills, the North’s state-run Uriminzokkiri Web site issued fresh warnings, saying Pyongyang would launch a counterattack with a “merciless shower of fire” if its territory is violated.
North Korea justified its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong as a “self-defensive measure” against a South Korean military exercise near the island, the usual logic its regime has used as an excuse for past shellings into the waters across the Yellow Sea border.
On Saturday, South Korea laid to rest the two marines killed by the North’s attack, with Maj. Gen. Yoo Nak-jun, top commander of the Marine Corps, vowing a “hundred- or thousand-fold” retaliation against North Korea.
President Lee Myung-bak ordered his military to boost troops and weapons on the Yellow Sea islands while toughening rules of engagement to allow the military to swiftly hit back with greater force when civilians are attacked by North Korea.
South Korea also replaced its defense chief with Kim Kwan-jin, a former JCS chairman, amid growing criticism that the military’s response to the North’s artillery attack was feeble.
Immediately after the North’s shelling, South Korea and the U.S. raised their surveillance alert against North Korea by a notch to the second-highest level, Watchcon 2.
Along with the 97,000-ton George Washington, participating U.S. warships in Sunday’s maneuvers include the 9,600-ton USS Cowpens, 9,750-ton USS Shiloh and the USS Stethem. South Korea has deployed a 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer, two 4,500-ton destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, according to JCS officials. (Yonhap)
S Korea-US begin military exercises: North Korea places surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads as US and Sou… http://aje.me/hHagsg
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