South Korea, US begin joint naval exercises amid tensions
Seoul: South Korea and the US Wednesday began joint naval exercises in an atmosphere of renewed tension after recent North Korean missile tests.
The annual exercise in the Yellow Sea is aimed at "encouraging teamwork and improving operational efficiency", a spokesperson for the US Marines in South Korea told Efe news agency.
The manoeuvres, set to continue till July 20, will see the participation of the 97,000-tonne US aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is propelled by two nuclear reactors.
The aircraft carrier was relocated from Japan for the occasion, bringing along a contingent of three warships and up to 80 fighter planes and bombers, which have joined forces with the South Korean Navy.
Simultaneously, the joint forces of the US and South Korea will also carry out maritime exercises on the other side of the peninsula, in the East Sea.
The arrival of the USS George Washington at the southeastern port of Busan last Friday was termed by North Korea as a "grave and unpardonable provocation" and a "malicious challenge" to the Communist regime of Kim Jong-un.
The US and South Korea, on their part, maintain that the manoeuvres are defensive in nature and that the aircraft have already been used during joint exercises before.
The new joint drills are expected to heighten the tension with the North Korean regime, which usually responds to such actions by its "enemies" with aggressive rhetoric and missile tests.
During the last two weeks, the People`s Army of North Korea has launched several guided missiles and short-range projectiles into the sea, in what is considered as a show of strength.
South Korea and the US take part in joint annual military exercises oriented towards coordinating their defence forces in case of a hypothetical attack from Pyongyang.
The US has deployed 28,500 troops in South Korea in order to defend its ally against North Korean aggression.
This arrangement is widely seen as the US`s inheritance from the Korean War (1950-1953) which ended with an armistice but was never replaced by a peace treaty.
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