US-led armada practices anti-sub maneuvers off Korea as Pyongyang threatens retaliation

By Eric Talmadge, AP
Sunday, July 25, 2010

US holds drills off Korea as Pyongyang talks war

ABOARD USS GEORGE WASHINGTON — U.S. and South Korean warships and helicopters practiced anti-submarine maneuvers off the Korean peninsula Monday that officers said they hope would serve as a warning to Pyongyang that aggression in the region would not be tolerated.

An international investigation has blamed the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors in what officials called the worst military attack on the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The four-day “Invincible Spirit” exercises involving 20 ships, 200 aircraft and about 8,000 U.S. and South Korean sailors are being held in the waters off Korea’s east coast have brought threats of retaliation from North Korea, which denies responsibility for the attack on the Cheonan.

The anti-submarine phase of the training — which also involves anti-ship and anti-aircraft operations — is particularly important because an international investigation found that the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo launched from a North Korean submarine that somehow penetrated South Korea’s defenses.

“North Korea’s danger lies because they are unpredictable,” said Capt. David Lausman, the commanding officer of the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered supercarrier deployed to the maneuvers from its home port in Japan. “The sinking of the Cheonan is a prime example.”

North Korea has strongly protested the exercises, saying they are a provocation and threatening retaliation. In flourishes of rhetoric typical of the regime, it vowed to respond with a “sacred war” and a “powerful nuclear deterrence.”

“They will face a costly consequence if they stick to the criminal activities ravaging peace and security on the Korean peninsula,” North Korea’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in commentary carried Monday by the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea says the investigation results were fabricated and has accused the United States of attempting to punish it.

Pyongyang’s latest rhetoric was seen by most as bluster: South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it had not observed any significant moves by the North Korean military since the maneuvers began Sunday.

But the threats carry extra weight following the sinking of the Cheonan that dramatically intensified tension on the Korean peninsula. The ship sank near the tense western sea border, a scene of three bloody inter-Korean maritime battles in recent years.

U.S. officials say that the maneuvers, held well away from North Korea’s border, are not intended to provoke a response, but add that they do want to send Pyongyang a message that further aggression in the region will not be tolerated and that the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea remains strong.

The peninsula technically remains at state of war because an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War was never replaced with a peace treaty. Tuesday marks the 57th anniversary of the signing of the cease-fire.

Cmdr. Ray Hesser, head of an anti-submarine helicopter squadron on the George Washington, said North Korean submarines are largely restricted to shallow, coastal waters.

“We’re not expecting to see them out here,” he said. “I would not think they would be willing or wanting to come all the way out here.”

He said the attack on the Cheonan probably came when the ship was not prepared and said U.S. ships observe higher readiness.

The maneuvers underscore a diplomatic blitz by the United States aimed at further tightening the screws on North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced during a visit to Seoul last week that the U.S. would slap new sanctions on the North to stifle its nuclear ambitions and punish it for the Cheonan sinking.

The European Union is also considering new sanctions on North Korea.

The deployment of the supercarrier to the area off Korea was also raising eyebrows in China — which was believed to have been concerned about having the carrier operate too close to its own shores. In an apparent bow to China, there are no plans for the George Washington to enter the Yellow Sea for subsequent drills with South Korea though it is taking part in the East Sea training.

“I don’t know how China will interpret the message. The message is not intended for China. Specifically, the message is intended for North Korea,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Remington, a top U.S. Air Force officer, told reporters at Osan Air Base near Seoul.

Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

will not be displayed