ABOARD USS GEORGE WASHINGTON – A massive nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier began maneuvers today with ally South Korea in a potent show of force that North Korea has threatened could lead to “sacred war.”
The military drills, code-named “Invincible Spirit,” are to run through Wednesday with about 8,000 U.S. and South Korean troops, 20 ships and submarines and 200 aircraft. The Nimitz-class USS George Washington, with several thousand sailors and dozens of fighters aboard, was deployed from Japan.
The North routinely threatens attacks whenever South Korea and the U.S. hold joint military drills, which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for an invasion. The U.S. keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea and another 50,000 in Japan, but says it has no intention of invading the North.
Still, the North’s latest rhetoric threatening “nuclear deterrence” and “sacred war” carries extra weight following the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. Seoul and Washington say a North Korean torpedo was responsible for the March sinking of the Cheonan, considered the worst military attack on the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The American and South Korean defense chiefs announced last week they would stage the military drills to send a clear message to North Korea to stop its “aggressive” behavior.
The exercises are the first in a series of U.S.-South Korean maneuvers to be conducted in the Sea of Japan off Korea’s east coast and in the Yellow Sea closer to China’s shores in international waters. The exercises also are the first to employ the F-22 fighter – which can evade North Korean air defenses – in South Korea.
South Korea was closely monitoring North Korea’s military, but no unusual activity was observed today, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
North Korea, which denies any involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan warship, has warned the United States against attempting to punish it.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Wednesday, after visiting the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, that the U.S. would slap new sanctions on the North to stifle its nuclear ambitions and punish it for the Cheonan sinking.
On Friday, the European Union said it, too, would consider new sanctions on North Korea.