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U.S., S. Korea launch joint military exercises amid threats from N. Korea

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2010; 9:58 AM

TOKYO -- Amid threats from North Korea, 86,000 U.S. and South Korean troops on Monday launched their latest round of joint military exercises, described by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as a deterrent against war.

The 11-day drills, unlike naval exercises held last month in the Sea of Japan, are based largely on computer-simulated war games and are being held in the southern part of the peninsula.

In tandem with the exercises, 400,000 South Korean government employees will participate in an anti-terrorism drill that includes a simulated attack. Seoul will host the Group of 20 summit in November, and both U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies fear a terrorist attack from Pyongyang.

On Sunday, North Korea threatened to respond to the drills with what a military spokesman called the "severest punishment" that anyone in the world has ever faced. Pyongyang routinely responds to U.S-South Korean exercises with threats, but tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been high since the March sinking of a South Korean warship. Seoul and Washington have blamed the sinking of the Cheonan on a North Korean torpedo attack.

In the months since the sinking, tensions have risen not only between the North and South, but also between the United States and China, which have closed ranks with their respective Korean allies.

Beijing has voiced vehement opposition to any U.S.-South Korean drills in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. According to the Pentagon, the United States and South Korea are planning to stage war games there later this summer.

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