The admiral in charge of U.S. forces in the Pacific said Tuesday that U.S. and South Korean naval and air forces will conduct large-scale exercises near North Korea in a "show of force" against the communist state for its sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
The aircraft-carrier strike group of warships led by the USS George Washington will take part in exercises in the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula, in war games that will be the largest of their kind in recent years.
"It is the first show-of-force exercise post-provocation that's been conducted by the [Republic of Korea] and U.S. for many years," said Adm. Robert F. Willard, the Pacific Command leader. "We fully expect that this will send a strong signal to Pyongyang and to Kim Jong-il regarding the provocation that the Cheonan represented."
The Cheonan is the South Korean coast ship that exploded and sank in March, killing 46 South Korean sailors. An international investigation determined that a North Korean submarine had sunk the ship with a torpedo, but North Korea has denied any responsibility in the incident.
Adm. Willard told reporters that the goal of the exercises, which will begin after meetings between U.S. and South Korean officials end Thursday, is "to deter North Korea from future provocations."
The exercises will last several days.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a joint statement with his South Korean counterpart that the exercises are "defensive" and "designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop."
In addition to the carrier strike group, a number of U.S. destroyers based from the Navy's 7th Fleet will take part, along with destroyers, frigates and some patrol craft from the South Korean navy.
Air forces include squadrons from the 7th Air Force and the South Korean air forces, including four top-of-the-line F-22s.
In all, more than 100 aircraft will take part, and an air-defense exercise will be included with simulated strikes and naval ship-passing maneuvers.
Asked how the exercises could deter North Korea, a senior Defense official said: "Well, not blowing up and attacking ROK naval vessels would be a good start, but there's a whole range of misbehavior that we can catalog, including their proliferation activities, missile activities, the activities that previously landed them on the state-sponsors-of-terrorism list and which we're continuing to keep a careful eye on."
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency stated on Monday that the exercises should be canceled, calling them "a very dangerous and reckless action and a grave military provocation."
Adm. Willard said the Cheonan sinking was one in a series of provocations by the North Koreans. Others included several assassination attempts against South Korean presidents, including one that killed the first lady; attacks on South Korean government ministers; the blowing up of an airliner; ballistic missile launches and two nuclear tests.
"So we're very much aiming to put a stop to that," he said.
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