(CNSNews.com) – Despite characteristically belligerent rhetoric, there were no reports of North Korean troop movements or threatening behavior as its southern neighbor and the United States continued large-scale naval exercises Monday aimed at deterring aggression by the isolated communist state.
The four-day Invincible Spirit drill, which began Sunday, involves some 20 ships led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, 200 aircraft – including, for the first time in South Korea, F-22 Raptor stealth fighters – and 8,000 personnel.
The drill will include anti-submarine exercises, a significant element given the sinking last March of a South Korean warship, allegedly destroyed by a torpedo launched from a North Korean submarine.
The exercises are being held in the East Sea (or Sea of Japan), off the eastern coast of South Korea, well to the south of the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas.
Earlier, Beijing voiced concerns about the prospect of U.S. warships taking part in maneuvers in the West Sea (or Yellow Sea) – between the Korean peninsula and China.
Last week Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China was strongly opposed to “foreign military ships and planes coming to the Yellow Sea and other waters near China to engage in activities that affect China's security interests.”
Although this week’s activity is not taking place there, U.S. officials made it clear this was not because of China’s objections.
Rear Adm. Daniel Cloyd told reporters aboard the George Washington that the exercise had not been “moved,” not having been intended for the West Sea in the first place.
“We reserve the right to operate in international waters anywhere in the world,” he said.
A statement by U.S. Army Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, described Invincible Spirit as just the first of a series of air and naval exercises that would be held off both the east and west coasts of Korea.
Sharp said the drills were “designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop.”
“Invincible Spirit, along with its follow-on exercises, will enhance the readiness of the [South Korea]-U.S. Alliance’s naval and air forces, while improving cooperation and interoperability between our forces and increasing the Alliance’s capability to deter, and if deterrence fails, defeat North Korean provocations.”
On the eve of the drill, North Korea’s National Defense Commission, the ruling body headed by Kim Jong-il, threatened “a retaliatory sacred war.”
“The army and people of [North Korea] will legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-ever nuclear war exercises to be staged by the U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces,” it said in a statement released by the official KCNA news agency.
South Korean intelligence officials told media in the country that no unusual troop movements had been detected.
Cloyd also said the region was being closely monitored and that no significant action by North Korea had been observed.