U.S. to Run Rare Three-Carrier Exercise Near Korean Peninsula

  • First such drills in Western Pacific since 2007 start Saturday
  • North Korea yet to respond to drills, Trump attack on Kim
Trump: I Want Peace Through Strength

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Hours after President Donald Trump launched into a stinging attack on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the U.S. Navy said it would carry out strike force drills in the Western Pacific using three aircraft carriers -- the first such exercise in a decade.

The U.S. 7th Fleet’s announcement of the four-day exercise starting Saturday made no mention of the isolated regime. But the president told South Korea’s parliament Wednesday that the “three largest aircraft carriers in the world loaded to the maximum with magnificent F-35 and F-18 fighter jets” were stationed near the Korean peninsula.

“I want peace through strength,” Trump said to applause from lawmakers in the National Assembly in Seoul.

Trump speaks at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 8.

Photographer: Pool/Bloomberg

The president used the speech to praise South Korea and attack the North, calling Kim a “deranged tyrant” who has turned the country into “a hell that no person deserves.” The previous day he used a softer tone, saying that the Pyongyang regime should “come to the table” to make a deal.

North Korea routinely complains about U.S. drills in the region, using them as justification to ratchet up its own weapons program. In late August, the regime launched a ballistic missile over northern Japan in what it said was “muscle-flexing” to protest annual military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. Pyongyang has yet to respond to Trump’s speech or the announcement of the drills.

US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan anchored at Busan on Oct. 21.

Photographer: Woohae Cho/Getty Images

“Rhetoric-wise, North Korea will send a strong warning again,” said Koh Yu-hwan, who teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

“Action-wise, North Korea is likely to take some time before reacting as Trump left room for dialogue in his speech,” said Koh, who heads an advisory group for South Korea’s presidential National Security Council. “Also, it’s hard for the North to test its weapons when U.S. strategic assets are near them as any such action could be misunderstood by the U.S. as an attack.”

The exercises will be the first time three carrier strike groups have operated together in the Western Pacific since exercises Valiant Shield 2006 and 2007 off the coast of Guam, the 7th Fleet said. The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carriers will be used for air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, and close-in coordinated maneuvers.

Fighter jets on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan.

Photographer: Woohae Cho/Getty Images

“It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three,” U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said in the statement. “Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region.”

South Korea’s defense ministry said Thursday that it was in talks with the U.S. about holding joint drills with the carriers for the first time, but wouldn’t consider a trilateral exercise involving Japan.

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