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S. Korea, U.S. kick off large-scale landing drill

All Headlines 11:52 March 27, 2014

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States began a large-scale amphibious landing drill on Thursday as part their annual joint exercise to enhance military readiness, military officials said, drawing an angry response from North Korea.

Navy and Marine Corps of the two nations will stage the Ssang Yong (double dragon) exercise on the southeast coast of the Korea Peninsula until April 7 as part of their annual field training exercise Foal Eagle, which runs through April 18.

The U.S. Seventh Fleet joined the South Korean forces south of the southern island of Jeju earlier in the day before moving to the eastern port city of Pohang for a rehearsal ahead of actual training slated for March 31.

This year's Ssang Yong exercise is the biggest joint marine drills between the two nations since those held during annual training Team Spirit, which was held from 1976 until 1993.

"The scale of this year's Ssang Yong is greater than any other in the past, proving the Navy and Marine Corps' ability to conduct the full spectrum of a combined arms, amphibious landing operation in cooperation with our international partners" the Combined Forces Command said.

The 12-day training includes 200 Marines and 1,000 Navy sailors of South Korea and 7,500 U.S. Marines and 2,000 Navy personnel, as well as 22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters.

The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Okinawa and the Seventh Fleet's Commander Task Force will participate in the exercise, which will stage amphibious landing drills and air offensive operations.

The Osprey's design combines a helicopter's operational flexibility of vertical takeoff and landing with greater speed, range, and fuel efficiency, and is capable of carrying about 24-32 personnel. Last year, four Ospreys were dispatched to the peninsula to join the amphibious landing drill.

Seoul officials said the largest-ever amphibious drill illustrates the rising strategic importance of the Korean Peninsula in the Asia-Pacific region under the Obama administration's Asia rebalancing policy.

"It seems that the U.S. Marine Corps considers the Korean Peninsula as one of the most important theaters of military operations in the Asia-Pacific region," a senior South Korean Marine Corp official said.

The landing drills drew a strong response from North Korea, which has routinely condemned the joint exercise between Seoul and Washington as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

On Monday, the North's state-run Rodong Sinmun denounced the Ssang Yong amphibious landing drill and Max Thunder, a bilateral aerial training exercise, as "typical offensive training," accusing Washington of raising tensions.


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