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US, South Korea End Joint Maneuvers, Discuss Future Exercises


A crew member looks through binoculars on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington during a joint Navy exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, 30 Nov 2010

A crew member looks through binoculars on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington during a joint Navy exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, 30 Nov 2010

As the U.S. and South Korean joint naval exercise wraps up, South Korean military officials say they are discussing holding more maneuvers with the U.S. forces within a few weeks or months.

The two militaries have spent the past four days in a demonstration of naval force, with thousands of sailors on 10 warships, and 75 aircraft in the Yellow Sea off South Korea.

U.S. Navy Commander Jeff Davis, aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington, says the forces detected nothing unusual from North Korea.

"An aircraft carrier, when it steams around anywhere in the world, also goes with escorts, always go with its eyes wide open in making sure that it's fully aware of its battle space within the sky and the surface and sub-surface," said Davis. "That said, no, there really hasn't been anything unusual that we've seen. Everything has been fairly uneventful in terms of any reactions or response from other countries."

The exercise began days after a North Korean artillery attack killed four South Koreans last week.

North Korea warns the maneuvers could lead to "all-out war" at any time.

The U.S. and South Korea say the drills are not meant to provoke Pyongyang, but rather demonstrate resolve to deter further aggression.

Davis says the only disruptions to the exercise have been caused by foggy weather.

"That's been a damper on some of the training evolutions," he said. "We did have to call off some of our strike training and some of the closer in maneuvering between ships because of low visibility right now in the west sea."

After the current maritime exercise concludes, South Korea, according to domestic media reports, is also to continue its own drills.

Regional security analysts say that could spark a new military reaction from North Korea as South Korean artillery exercises will take place close to the disputed maritime boundary off the west coast.

Pyongyang does not recognize the so-called Northern Limit Line. North Korea says its shelling of Yeonpyeong island last week was a response to South Korean artillery firing into the disputed waters.

Two South Korean marines and two civilians died in the North Korean bombardment of the island.

South Korea's ambassador for international security affairs and global issues, Lee Chung Min, says the military will send more troops and artillery to vulnerable islands.

"We will upgrade our forces on Yeonpyeong island and throughout the so-called five western sea islands. And the president has promised that in the new defense budget, they have just requested about $750 million in emergency spending to upgrade our forces overall," said Lee.

Lee says revised rules of engagement also allow South Korean troops to respond more effectively to any North Korean military action.

South Korea's defense minister has warned another attack by North Korea is an "ample possibility."

Diplomatic efforts are under way to defuse what many now view as a dangerous situation on the Korean peninsula. Various envoys are shuttling among capitals, including between Pyongyang and Beijing.

The United States is urging China to pressure North Korea to cease its belligerence.

Diplomat say, however, China, which is North Korea's sole significant ally, has blocked attempts at the United Nations for the Security Council to respond to Pyongyang's attacks or its new nuclear activities.

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