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(2nd LD) S. Korea, U.S. begin largest-ever anti-North military drills

All News 23:47 March 07, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS NK's response in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States kicked off their annual joint military exercises on Monday, bringing a record number of American troops and military assets into the Korean Peninsula.

The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, each a command post-based and field training war game, began their weeks-long runs earlier in the day as inter-Korean tensions escalated following North Korea's recent nuclear and long-range missile tests.

North Korea threatened to launch an "all-out offensive" against Seoul and Washington as the allies kicked off the joint exercises, in the latest of the communist country's recent series of bellicose rhetoric over the annual joint drills.

This year's exercises mobilize some 17,000 U.S. troops, the largest-ever number of American forces brought in here since the two previously-separate drills were integrated into one set of springtime exercises in 2008, according to the allies' Combined Forces Command (CFC).

The U.S. Navy's battle group, led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), will arrive in South Korea this week to participate in the drills, according to the CFC.

The U.S. will also mobilize a nuclear-powered submarine, aerial tanker aircraft and reportedly the B-2 stealth bomber during the exercises.

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

"Given the size of the troops and military assets that participate in the latest exercises, these are the largest-ever Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills in size," the CFC official said.

"Key Resolve highlights the longstanding and enduring partnership and friendship between the two nations and their combined commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and regional stability," the CFC said in a statement.

The CFC said the Foal Eagle exercise will implement a series of several joint field training operations on ground, air, sea and special operations.

Military sources said this year's exercises will newly incorporate the allies' recently-signed operational plan, OPLAN 5015, which stipulates that allied operations will 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.

Key Resolve will run through March 18 and Foal Eagle will continue until April 30.

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 some 12,200 U.S. navy and marine troops.

The U.S. Navy's Japan-based Expeditionary Strike Group Seven brought its flagship, the amphibious assault vessel USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and two other dock landing ships to South Korea last week to join the combined landing exercise.

The CFC official said the U.S. side will also bring in another Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, the USS Boxer (LHD-4), adding that "it is the first time for two U.S. assault landing vessels to participate in a joint exercise (with South Korea) at the same time."

As part of the joint amphibious drill, the combined forces will conduct a simulated amphibious assault along the beaches in the vicinity of the east-coastal city of Pohang on Saturday, according to CFC.

"This will be a simulated, full-spectrum, combined arms forcible entry operation ... and will showcase the capabilities, effectiveness, speed, and flexibility of the expeditionary amphibious operations and the U.S. and ROK partnership," it noted.

The massive joint exercises are likely to trigger a military response from North Korea.

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.

Earlier in the day, the South Korean side informed the North Korean military about the exercises' kickoff and their "non-provocative" nature, CFC said.

The North, meanwhile, ratcheted up its rhetoric on Monday, threatening that it is ready to launch a "preemptive" and "merciless" strike. It also warned that South Korea and the U.S. should retrain themselves if they want to evade its "retaliatory" strike from what he claimed "diversified" nuclear weapons already deployed in its army.

The remarks were made in a statement by a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which is in charge of daily inter-Korean affairs. It was carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the North's official news outlet.


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