The U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington set off for the volatile waters west of the Korean peninsula Nov. 24 to join a naval readiness exercise with South Korean forces, the Combined Forces Command (CFC) here announced, in an apparent show of strength against North Korea, which shelled an island of the South, killing two marines and two other civilians a day ago.
The U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier George Washington set off for the Korean peninsula Nov. 24 to join a naval readiness exercise with South Korean forces. (MCSN Adam K. Thomas / U.S. Navy)
Fifteen other troops and four civilians were wounded during the attack, one of the most serious provocations by the communist regime since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The participation of the U.S. aircraft carrier strike group, which includes 75 aircraft and 6,000 sailors, was agreed upon by U.S. and South Korean leaders, according to the presidential offices in both countries.
President Barack Obama talked with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, for 30 minutes by phone and decided to dispatch the 97,000-ton aircraft carrier from the U.S. 7th Fleet, according to the White House. The carrier strike group left its home base in Yokosuka, Japan, for the West Sea to take part in drills Nov. 28-Dec.1.
"The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with our close friend and ally," Obama told Lee, according to a White House statement.
The CFC, led by Gen. Walter Sharp, issued a statement announcing the naval exercise is "defensive in nature."
"While planned well before yesterday's unprovoked artillery attack, it demonstrates the strength of the ROK (Republic of Korea)-U.S. alliance and our commitment to regional stability through deterrence. It is also designed to improve our military interoperability," said the statement.
Along with the George Washington and its embarked carrier air wing, the statement said U.S. Navy ships scheduled to participate include the guided-missile cruiser Cowpens and the guided-missile destroyers Stethem, Fitzgerald and Lassen.
"The U.S. and ROK forces will conduct air defense and surface warfare readiness training," the statement said.
CFC public affairs official Kim Yong-kyu said the U.S. government had notified China of the exercise plan. China has been opposed to U.S.-ROK joint maneuvers in the West Sea, or Yellow Sea, most of which it considers to be its territory.
Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the ROK Navy will deploy destroyers, corvettes, frigates, support ships and anti-submarine aircraft without specifying how many troops or what type of ships would be involved in the four-day exercise.
South Korean and U.S. officials said next week's exercise is one in a series of drills announced in July in response to the sinking of the ROK Navy's corvette Cheonan in March. The ship was sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine, a Seoul-led multinational team of investigators claims.