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US Dismisses Calls to Pause Drills     08/22 06:12

   As North Korea vowed "merciless retaliation" against U.S.-South Korean 
military drills that it claims are an invasion rehearsal, senior U.S. military 
commanders on Tuesday dismissed calls to pause or downsize exercises they 
called crucial to countering a clear threat from Pyongyang.

   OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AP) -- As North Korea vowed "merciless 
retaliation" against U.S.-South Korean military drills that it claims are an 
invasion rehearsal, senior U.S. military commanders on Tuesday dismissed calls 
to pause or downsize exercises they called crucial to countering a clear threat 
from Pyongyang.

   The heated North Korean rhetoric, along with occasional weapons tests, is 
standard fare during the spring and summer war games by allies Seoul and 
Washington, but always uneasy ties between the Koreas are worse than normal 
this year following weeks of tit-for-tat threats between President Donald Trump 
and Pyongyang in the wake of the North's two intercontinental ballistic missile 
tests last month.

   There have been calls in both the United States and South Korea to postpone 
or modify the drills in an attempt to ease hostility on the Korean Peninsula 
following North Korea's threat to lob missiles toward the U.S. territory of 
Guam. But a visiting group of senior U.S. military commanders, including Adm. 
Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said the drills are 
critical for the allies to maintain readiness against an aggressive North Korea.

   "A strong diplomatic effort backed by a strong military effort is key 
because credible combat power should be in support of diplomacy and not the 
other way around," Harris said during a news conference at South Korea's Osan 
Air Base.

   Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said the allies should 
continue the war games until they "have reason not to." ''That reason has not 
yet emerged," he said.

   The U.S. military officials were to travel to the site of a contentious U.S. 
missile-defense system in South Korea later Tuesday.

   North Korea's military said in a statement that it would launch an 
unspecified "merciless retaliation and unsparing punishment" on the United 
States over the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that began Monday for an 11-day 
run.

   Despite the threat, an unprompted direct attack is extremely unlikely 
because the United States vastly outguns Pyongyang, which values the 
continuation of its dictatorship above all else. Impoverished North Korea hates 
the annual drills in part because they force it to respond with expensive 
military measures of its own.

   The North Korean statement accused the United States of deploying 
unspecified "lethal" weapons for the drills that it says involve a "beheading 
operation" training aimed at removing absolute ruler Kim Jong Un.

   "No one can vouch that these huge forces concentrated in South Korea will 
not go over to an actual war action now that the military tensions have reached 
an extreme pitch in the Korean Peninsula," the statement said. "Moreover, 
high-ranking bosses of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces flew into South 
Korea to hold a war confab. Such huddle is increasing the gravity of the 
situation."

   Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who visited Seoul with other 
lawmakers, said Tuesday that dialogue would be the best way to defuse the North 
Korean nuclear standoff, though he argued that the United States and its allies 
must be ready to respond to potential aggression by North Korea with 
"overwhelming force."

   "Talking with North Korea is not a concession; it is the only way to reach 
an agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and to reinforce that our 
military strength is there only to deter aggression and to defend against 
attack," Markey told a news conference.

   Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono offered a different view, saying 
pressure, not talks, is needed to push North Korea to give up its nuclear 
weapons. He said Pyongyang had used dialogue in the past to buy time.

   The Ulchi drills are largely computer-simulated war games held every summer, 
and this year's exercise involves 17,500 American troops and 50,000 South 
Korean soldiers. No field training like live-fire exercises or tank maneuvering 
is involved in the drills, in which alliance officers sit at computers to 
practice how they would engage in battles and hone their decision-making 
capabilities. The allies have said the drills are defensive in nature.


(KA)

 
 
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