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S. Korea, U.S. begin joint military drills

Allies defy latest retaliation threats from North Korea


South Korea and the U.S. began annual joint military drills Monday to enhance readiness for any additional provocations by North Korea and a possible all-out war with the communist state.

The nationwide Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises started as the North hardened its bellicose rhetoric against the allies, warning of a “ruthless” military response that could turn Seoul into a “sea of flames.”

The Key Resolve command post exercise focusing on computer-based simulations will run through March 10 while the Foal Eagle field training exercise will continue until April 30, the allies’ Combined Forces Command said.

The exercises are the first regular drills since the artillery attack on the South Korean frontline island of Yeonpyeong in November that killed two marines and two civilians.

“Exercise scenarios will focus on crisis management, and command and control of alliance forces,” the CFC said in a press release.

“Key Resolve is defense-oriented and designed to enhance readiness, defend the Republic of Korea and respond to any potential situations. The exercises are planned months in advance, and they are not connected to any current world events.”

For the two exercises, which the North has routinely berated as rehearsals to topple its regime, the U.S. military has mobilized some 12,800 troops while the South has mustered some 200,000 troops including some of its reserve forces, officials said.

Around 10 members from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission will observe the exercises to validate the defensive nature of the training, the CFC said.

The U.S. has reportedly planned to deploy its aircraft carrier for the Foal Eagle exercise. However, officials did not confirm it. The nuclear-powered 96,000-ton USS John C. Stennis of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet participated in the 2009 exercises.

Military officials here stressed that the two exercises are based on Operational Plan 5027 centering on a scenario of an all-out war with the belligerent neighbor rather than on Conceptual Plan 5029.

Before the exercises, speculation circulated that the allied militaries would base the two exercises on CONPLAN 5029 ― designed to deal with instabilities and contingencies in the North such as internal unrest, a regime collapse or mass outflow of North Korean refugees. Seoul has been reluctant to mention the plan for fear of provoking the North.

The allies also plan to intensify and expand drills focusing on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

A number of the troops from the U.S. 20th Support Command based in Maryland have joined the WMD-removal drills, sources said. The command, which was created in October 2004, sent 150 troops in 2009 and 350 troops in 2010 for the annual drills, according to them.

To prepare against possible provocations by the North during the exercises, the South Korean military has been maintaining high vigilance and keeping close tabs on North Korean movements.

“There are not any unusual North Korean movements detected yet. We understand that North Korea is also maintaining high vigilance (during the exercises),” an official at Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, refusing to be named.

The North continued to send warnings to the South, denouncing the joint drills.

Noting that the exercises have kicked off despite the North’s repeated warnings, Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, claimed that the “risks of a nuclear war” on the Korean Peninsula are increasing.

“Warmongers in the South have been raising the extent of its ruckus for provocations since the inter-Korean military working-level talks broke down (last month),” the official Korean Central News Agency quoted the daily as saying.

“The ruling forces in the South are justifying efforts to incite provocations for an invasion into the North and persistently opposing dialogue and negotiations between the two Koreas. We cannot condone the moves to destroy inter-Korean dialogue, which run counter to the demands of the current times.”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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