By Al Pessin of VOA News
The U.S. Defense Department announced its forces will conduct two previously unplanned exercises with South Korea’s military in response to the North Korean sinking of a South Korean ship in March.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman says U.S. and South Korean forces will soon conduct two types of naval exercises: one aimed at improving their joint ability to detect and repel submarines and another focused on dealing with threats from surface ships.
“Those initiatives are a result of the findings of this recent incident,” said Whitman. “And, again, from our almost constant consultation with our [South] Korean counterparts, too.”
Whitman could not say exactly when or where the exercises will take place, or how many ships and troops will be involved. He said the decision to hold the exercises had just been made.
Last week, an international investigation concluded that North Korea used a torpedo to sink the South Korean Navy ship The Cheonan near the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas, killing 46 sailors. North Korea has rejected the finding as a “fabrication.”
South Korea announced a series of retaliatory steps Monday, including an end to all trade and exchanges, and the barring of North Korean ships from South Korean waters. The White House expressed support for the moves, calling U.S. support for South Korea’s defense “unequivocal.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to China, said the U.S. response would include a military component.
“President Obama has directed his military commanders to coordinate closely with their Korean counterparts to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression,” said Clinton. “As part of our ongoing dialogue, we will explore further enhancements to our joint posture on the Peninsula.”
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the new exercises are partly in response to that order.
“We want to continue to build on this foundation of strong cooperation with the Republic of Korea and we think this is two areas which lend themselves, in light of this incident, that could be useful to both of our countries,” Whitman said.
Joint U.S.-South Korean exercises always anger North Korea, but there are nearly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and they exercise with their South Korean counterparts all the time. Last week, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen said the troops in South Korea had not been put on any heightened state of alert as a result of the ship sinking, but that they are in a constant state of readiness.