US, South Korea start drills in show of force against North
The United States and South Korea have started joint naval drills that will involve three US aircraft carriers in what military officials describe as a clear warning to North Korea.
The four-day drills that began on Saturday in waters off South Korea’s eastern coast came during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia, which has been dominated by discussions about the North Korean nuclear threat.
In a speech to the South Korean parliament on Wednesday, Trump warned North Korea not to underestimate the US, while offering leader Kim Jong-un a better future if he gives up his nuclear ambitions.
Trump continued his tough talk on Friday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, saying that the region’s future “must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies of violent conquest and nuclear blackmail”, referring to Kim.
“The exercise is aimed at enhancing deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and showing off preparedness to fend off any provocative acts by the North,” a South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman said.
South Korea’s military said the battle groups of the USS Ronald Reagan, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Nimitz will successively enter the exercise area during the drills that run until Tuesday.
The three carriers are expected to be together on Monday.
The US warships will carry out air defence drills, sea surveillance, defensive air combat training and other training operations, the US Navy said.
The exercises will also involve 11 US Aegis ships and seven South Korean naval vessels, including two Aegis missile defence system ships. They aim to enhance combined operation and aerial strike capabilities and also display “strong will and firm military readiness to defeat any provocation by North Korea with dominant force in the event of crisis”, Seoul’s military said.
It is the first time since a 2007 exercise near Guam that three US carrier strike groups are operating together in the Western Pacific, according to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet. The US carriers will also join in separate exercises with three Japanese destroyers, according to Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force.
North Korea regularly denounces such military drills as rehearsals for invasion and sometimes conducts its own military manoeuvres or missile tests in response.
The US has been sending its strategic assets, also including long-range bombers, to the region more frequently for patrols or drills amid accelerating North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear weapons programme.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse