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S. Korea, U.S. begin largest-ever military drills on striking N.K. leadership

All Headlines 10:42 March 07, 2016

SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest-ever annual joint military exercises on Monday with a special focus on bolstering the allies' wartime capability to launch precision strikes on North Korea's top leadership, officials said Monday.

The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, each a command post-based and field training war game, began their weeks-long schedules amid escalating military tensions between South and North Korea following Pyongyang's nuclear and long-range missile tests earlier this year.

North Korea threatened to launch an "all-out offensive" against Seoul and Washington as the allies kicked off the joint exercises earlier in the day.

This year's exercises mobilize some 17,000 U.S. troops, the largest number of American forces in about 40 years and about twice the size of a year earlier, according to military officials here.

The U.S. will also deploy the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), a nuclear-powered submarine, aerial tanker aircraft and reportedly the B-2 stealth bomber during the annual springtime exercises.

From the South Korean side, some 300,000 troops will take part.

Military sources said the exercises will newly incorporate the allies' recently-signed operational plan, OPLAN 5015, which stipulates allied operations to launch precision attacks on North Korea's top leadership and its nuclear and missile arsenal in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula.

The allies are also known to be integrating their new "4D" anti-North operational plan into the exercises, which details the allies' pre-emptive military operations to detect, disrupt, destroy and defend against North Korea's nuclear and missile arsenal.

"The focus of the exercises will be on hitting North Korea's key facilities precisely," one military official said.

Key Resolve will run through mid-March, while Foal Eagle will continue until late April.

Also on Monday the allies kicked off their biennial joint amphibious exercise, Ssangyong, involving more than 5,000 South Korean marine and Navy personnel along with 7,000 U.S. marine troops.

Mobilizing more than three U.S. Navy ships, including the amphibious assault vessel USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), the drill will train forces on special operations and landing combat forces near critical North Korean targets, according to officials.

North Korea is likely to respond to the massive joint exercises with retaliatory military action.

During last year's exercises, North Korea fired short-range ballistic and surface-to-air missiles in protest of what they denounced as a prelude to an invasion of the North.

"We are keeping close watch for the North Korean military's further provocations that could come in the future," one military official said, asking not to be named.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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