Joint military drill could come this month

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Joint military drill could come this month

The overdue South Korea-U.S. joint Naval drill planned as a determined show of protest to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan may finally be back on schedule.

But while one government source said yesterday that the drill - a show of military preparedness planned in addition to the two annual joint drills - will be held at the end of this month, other experts said it may face yet another delay.

“After consultations, South Korea and the United States decided to conduct a joint military drill in the final week of June,” the source said. The joint military drill was initially planned early this month, but it has been delayed at the request of the United States.

The official said the Naval drill will be held on the West Sea, where the South Korean warship sank on March 26 along with 46 of its soldiers in what the South believes was a torpedo attack by North Korea. The official said the drill will be followed by joint anti-submarine exercises in early July.

“The joint drill will be centered on preventing the infiltration of North Korean special forces, detecting North Korean submarines and mastering capabilities of joint combat operations,” another government official told Yonhap News Agency. “That will be held in a setting similar to real combat.”

The official told Yonhap the drill will involve the U.S.S. George Washington, a 97,000 ton-air craft carrier belonging to the U.S. Seventh Fleet, as well as an Aegis-class cruiser. South Korea will mobilize a 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyer, an 1,800-ton Son Won-il submarine and F-15K jet fighters for the drill, the official said.

But Jung Chang-hyun, a professor at Kookmin University, said the drill could be delayed further, citing the slow process at the UN Security Council to procure international condemnation of the Cheonan attack.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor of North Korea studies at Kyungnam University, agreed, saying “Given the sensitivity of the issue, holding a special drill won’t be easy. North Korea said it will consider any ‘provocation against it’ a declaration of war, and China’s against the drill because it’s on the West Sea.”

The two Koreas have remained technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice. South Korea holds two annual joint military drills with the U.S.: the Ulchi Freedom Guardian in August, and the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise in March or April.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said yesterday that a date for the special drill has not been confirmed.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said that “the joint drill will be on the West Coast and then it will expand into the entire country.” The same day, South Korean Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Kim Sung-chan agreed with U.S. Seventh Fleet commander, Vice Adm. John Bird, to bolster their joint defense posture against North Korean submarines.

By Moon Gwang-lip, Kim Min-seok []
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