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3 U.S. carriers will begin drills in rare show of force

Nov 10,2017
Three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups currently converged near South Korea will kick off a rare four-day exercise in the Western Pacific on Saturday as U.S. President Donald Trump tours Asia.

The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz, USS Theodore Roosevelt and their accompanying warships will conduct “coordinated operations to demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups as a coordinate strike force effort,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement Wednesday.

An official from the South Korean military said the strike groups were planning to hold joint military exercises with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force on Saturday and Sunday, after which they will train with the South Korean Navy on Monday and Tuesday.

While at sea, the U.S. strike force will conduct air defense drills, sea surveillance, defensive air combat training and close-in coordinated maneuvers, among others.

This will be the first time since 2007 that three carrier strike groups operate together in the Western Pacific.

“Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift, “and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region.”

The statement did not rule out North Korea, who previously threatened to fire ballistic missiles off Guam, an American island in the Western Pacific, which hosts strategic U.S. military bases.

Last August, North Korea’s Strategic Force was quoted by the regime’s official Korean Central News Agency as having reported an operational plan for attacking waters near the island to leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim was said to have examined it for a “long time” and warned the United States to cease its reckless actions, unless it wanted the North to follow through.

Shin Won-sik, former head of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff operational headquarters, said that the U.S. Navy’s coordinated operations would “give a taste” of Washington’s military options on North Korea, which has often threatened to hit the U.S. mainland with long-range missiles.

“It’s a message to China to do more to pressure the North,” said Shim Beom-chul, a professor of defense and unification issues at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

Shim added that Trump’s way of pursuing foreign policy objectives through the support of naval power is a type of “gunboat diplomacy.”

North Korea, which sees any military drills near its country as a rehearsal for invasion, has not responded to the news of the drills yet, nor has it reacted to any of Trump’s remarks during his time in Japan, South Korea and China.

On Wednesday, North Korea accused Seoul of “blindly” siding with the United States, which it said was planning a nuclear war on the peninsula.

The regime added that Trump’s very visit to South Korea was intended to “light the fuse for a nuclear war.”

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, LEE SUNG-EUN AND PARK YONG-HAN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]