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US, S. Korea Wrap up Drills on Tense Peninsula


The United States and South Korea wrapped up two weeks of annual joint military maneuvers on Friday. The training exercises took place against a backdrop of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula. North Korea responded to the exercises with its usual sharp rhetoric and also threatened flights of civilian aircraft.

U.S. Marines and their South Korean counterparts kick down doors and open fire on enemies hiding inside.

Their ammunition, and their casualties, are simulated.

It was part of the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces.

About 14,000 US military personnel came to South Korea for the exercises, joining another 28,000 troops who are deployed in South Korea year round.

North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. That triggered a three year war that was suspended by an armistice, but never formally ended.

U.S. and South Korean military commanders say this annual practice is a way of ensuring the South is always prepared for any future attack by the North.

Lieutenant Colonel Ross Coffman led the Army task force that came over from the U.S. for the exercise. He describes the drills as routine and defensive.

"We train every day for many contingencies," he said. "What we do here is not different from what we've done in Georgia and Oklahoma. This particular contingency is a defensive one meant to help our ally."

North Korea harshly criticizes these drills every year, describing them as a rehearsal for invasion. This year the North went further - announcing it could not "guarantee the safety" of South Korean flights in or near the North's airspace during the drills.

Much of the action in these joint drills does not take place at practice ranges like this one.

It takes place instead on computer screens, behind closed doors - as the two militaries simulate efforts to communicate with each other when coordinating the movement of supplies and personnel around the Korean peninsula.

The drills also take place at sea. A U.S. aircraft carrier and two AEGIS-class U.S. Destroyers were among the naval ships sent to South Korea for the exercises.

Destroyers like the USS Chafee have the advanced technology and missile systems capable of shooting down ballistic missiles. That is something the United States has not ruled out doing, if North Korea carries out the launch of a long range rocket as it has promised to do in early April.

The U.S. and its allies say such a launch would violate a United Nations resolution imposed after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear weapons test in 2006.

The Chafee's Korean-American commander, Choi Kee Dong, says his ship is ready to carry out whatever course of action policymakers decide.

"The U.S. Navy is always prepared to respond in a crisis, and we will do our utmost to make sure that we carry out our mission," he said.

The joint exercises ended Friday.

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