- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 19 (UPI) — The United States and South Korea kicked off another set of major joint military exercises Wednesday aimed at deterring threats from North Korea.

The 8-day, computer-based command training drill, code-named Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration, coincided with ongoing monthlong joint field exercises of Foal Eagle that run through April 2.

"The RSOI exercise began today as scheduled," Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman for the U.S.-South Korea Combined Forces Command, told United Press International. The annual war game is designed to train and evaluate the command's capabilities to receive U.S. augmentation forces from bases outside South Korea, he said.

Some 5,000 U.S. soldiers have been mobilized from abroad to take part in the dual joint exercises, along with 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea under a mutual defense pact.

The U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, six F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters and an Aegis warship are set to join in the drills, Kim said. Their participation in the exercises in south Korea was for the first time in a decade.

The Carl Vinson, the U.S. Navy's third Nimitz-class aircraft carrier with 70 aircraft, is to sail through South Korea's southeast coast to support a massive landing exercise by U.S. and South Korean troops.

"How long the aircraft will stay here is confidential," a U.S. military official said.

The Aegis-equipped battleship USS Vincennes docked at a naval base in Incheon, 25 miles west of Seoul, and six radar-evading F-117 stealth fighters were deployed at an air base in southwestern port city of Kunsan.

The U.S. Air Force has already deployed 24 U.S. B-1 and B-52 bombers to the Pacific island of Guam earlier this month to deter North Korea during any conflict in Iraq. Reconnaissance flights have also resumed off North Korea after a delay caused by the interception of a U.S. spy plane by North Korean MiG fighters on March 2.

North Korea reacted angrily to the military drills and the reinforcement of U.S. military presence around the Korean peninsula, describing them as a rehearsal for a U.S. strike at its nuclear facilities.

It warned it would not remain "a passive onlooker" while the United States conducts war games on the peninsula. The drills were "preparation for pre-emptive nuclear attack at any time," said Pyongyang's state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Wednesday.

"The DPRK (North Korea) has self-defensive national defense capacity powerful enough to beat back any formidable enemy at a single stroke," it said.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has warned that North Korea may attempt "demonstrative provocations" during the military exercises. The country's military and police have been placed on high alert.

U.S. and South Korean military officials said their military exercises are "purely defensive." On Wednesday, the U.S.-led U.N. Command offered to meet with North Korean military officials to discuss the military drills and security conditions on the peninsula.

But North Korean officials rejected the proposal of border talks, said Col. Martin Glasser, secretary of the UNC Military Armistice Committee.

"The KPA (North Korea's People's Army) has turned down an excellent opportunity to discuss important events affecting the Korean peninsula," he said.

"(In the proposal), we explained that the exercise is defensive in nature and is not an aggressive or a threatening move against North Korea," he added.

Washington has repeatedly denied having any plans to invade North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions, but North Korea has raised concerns that it could be the U.S. military's next target after a war in Iraq.

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