Delayed ROK-U.S. drill plan finalized
The first of the much-discussed and delayed South Korea-U.S. joint naval drills, designed to respond to the Cheonan incident, will be held off the east coast for four days beginning Sunday with around 8,000 soldiers from both countries mobilized, the Defense Ministry said yesterday.
The two countries will continue to hold joint military exercises either off the east coast or the west coast for months to come, the ministry said.
Plans for the drill were concluded at yesterday’s meeting in Seoul between Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
“The purpose of this readiness exercise is to highlight the alliance’s resolve to face any threat North Korea may pose, and it will include a comprehensive range of training opportunities,” said the ministry in a statement.
The two sides have had lengthy discussions about when and how to hold the exercise as a protest against the fatal March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan off the West Coast, which a Seoul-led multinational investigation claimed was the result of a North Korean torpedo. The North has denied the charge.
The first joint exercise was initially scheduled for early June, but was delayed after protests from both North Korea and China, whose waters border those of the Koreas in the sea off the west coast. Analysts said that because of China’s objections, the venue was changed to the east coast.
Dubbed “Invincible Spirit,” the first exercise will involve approximately 8,000 Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine personnel, the ministry said. The U.S.S. George Washington, the U.S.’s only permanent, forward-deployed aircraft carrier, South Korea’s naval ship Dokdo and 18 other surface ships and submarines will participate. Approximately 200 alliance Air Force and Navy fixed wing aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor, will also be mobilized. This is the first time the F-22 will be flying in training missions in or around Korea.
Gates said the joint drills will send a message of deterrence to the North.
“[The drills] are designed to enhance our inter-operability and readiness,” Gates told U.S. troops at a U.S. base in Dongducheon, north of Seoul. “But it is also a strong sign of deterrence, or a signal of deterrence, to the North.”
The South Korean government said further discussions between Seoul and Washington concerning the Cheonan incident will be made at today’s so-called “2+2” security meeting in Seoul. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join Gates in meeting with their South Korean counterparts, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Tae-young.
Prior to the 2+2 meeting, the four are scheduled to visit the demilitarized zone, a 240-kilometer-long (150-mile) area that has separated the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War in 1953. It is the first time top foreign and defense heads of the U.S. are visiting the world’s most heavily fortified border together.
“I think it’s a useful reminder that we are in an armistice and that it is a volatile region, as we saw with the Cheonan,” Gates told reporters yesterday during a visit to Camp Casey, a U.S. base near the DMZ.
By Moon Gwang-lip, Kim Jung-wook [email@example.com]