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(LEAD) U.S. supercarrier to lead joint drills with S. Korea off Yellow Sea

All Headlines 15:47 June 22, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with largest S Korea-US live-fire drill in last six paras; ADDS photos)

SEOUL, June 22 (Yonhap) -- A nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier is in position off the west coast of South Korea to lead large-scale military exercises aimed at honing the two countries' joint capability to cope with North Korean aggression, Seoul officials said Friday, amid the North's saber-rattling.

About 10 warships and submarines, including the George Washington Carrier Striker Group; 8,000 personnel; and hundreds of combat aircraft from the allies will take part in the three-day exercises from Saturday, said officials at Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The drills, a follow-up of a two-day, trilateral naval drill with Japan in waters south of Jeju Island, will be held off the west coast town of Taean, 150 kilometers south of Seoul, JCS officials said.

"Throughout the joint military exercises, South Korean and U.S. forces will show off their resolute capabilities," Navy Brig. Gen Park Seong-bae said.

"We will immediately retaliate against any provocations from North Korea."

Tension on the Korean Peninsula remains high following the North's two military attacks that killed 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers. The South's military has vowed a tougher retaliation if provoked again.

North Korea defied international warnings again in April by launching a long-range rocket, although it ended in failure. The international community strongly condemned the launch as a cover to test international ballistic missile technology.

This week's joint drills are partly aimed at testing the allies' ability to track and monitor a North Korean long-range missile on the assumption that the North launches such a missile, JCS officials said.

They also plan to practice skills to detect and destroy North Korean submarines, according to JCS officials.

North Korea's ruling party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, denounced this week the three-nation exercise as a "reckless provocation."

"The dangerous moves to knock into shape the triangular military nexus is an act going against the trend of the times for regional peace and stability, including on the Korean Peninsula," it said.

"Dark clouds of a new war are thus hanging heavily in Northeast Asia, including the peninsula," the newspaper said.

Also on Friday, South Korean and U.S. armed forces held their largest live-fire exercise near the land border with the North to mark the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

The exercise in Pocheon, 50 km north of Seoul and near the tense border with the North, involved more than 2,000 troops, F-15K combat fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters and tanks, said officials at Seoul's defense ministry.

The one-day drill, presided over by Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, was aimed at displaying a watertight defense posture and war-fighting capabilities, ministry officials said.

The drill demonstrated how the allies would counter an attack by North Korean armed forces by re-enacting the invasion by the North 62 years ago, officials said.

The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, when tank-led North Korean troops invaded South Korea. The United States and 20 other allied countries fought on the side of South Korea under the U.N. flag. The conflict ended in a cease-fire three years later.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are currently stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.


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