Friday, December 17, 2010

General: Exercises Vital to U.S., South Korea

By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - Exercises such as the Invincible Spirit series are helping the U.S.-South Korean alliance transform for the future while sending an unmistakable message to North Korea that its provocations won't be tolerated, the top U.S. general in South Korea said yesterday.

Army Gen. Walter L. "Skip" Sharp, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, condemned North Korea's spate of destabilizing activities during a speech to the East Asia Institute and Center for a New American Security in Seoul.

The most recent attack, on South Korea's northwest islands, "crossed a significant threshold and represents a worrying trend toward more frequent and more violent provocations," Sharp said. "Our task ... is to find ways to change North Korea's strategic calculus and end the cycle of provocations."

The United States and South Korea's message to North Korea is clear, he said. "We will not tolerate attacks against the civilian population and all provocations will be met with the utmost response that the combined [South Korea]-U.S. instruments of national power can bring to bear and that the laws of land warfare permit."

Sharp said North Korea's actions bolstered the U.S.-South Korean alliance, which is observing its 60th anniversary this year. "Alliance resolve has never been stronger, and we will strengthen the alliance further still, both in terms of capability and commitment," he said.

The new Strategic Alliance 2015 plan lays out a framework for that effort. It includes improvements in the military exercise and training program, transfer of wartime operational control to South Korean forces by 2015 and the consolidation of U.S. forces to hubs around Pyeongtaek and Daegu.

Sharp called a realistic and adaptable exercise and training program critical to the plan, particularly in light of recent events on the peninsula.

"We will seek to further adapt our exercises to address limited, as well as full-scale, North Korean attacks," he said. "All our exercises are designed to improve our interoperability and demonstrate unwavering alliance resolve to maintain peace and stability in the region."

Sharp cited the success of the recent Invincible Spirit naval and air readiness exercises, the most recently that included the Carrier Strike Group George Washington. Together with the biannual theater-level exercises, Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, and future bilateral and multilateral exercises, these are improving alliance capabilities and readiness to respond to the full range of provocations and attacks, he said.

He emphasized, however, that the U.S.-South Korean alliance isn't focused solely on North Korea. "The [South Korean]-U.S. alliance is a vital element in providing security, stability and prosperity on the peninsula and in the region," he said. "Based on our shared values, our countries are primed to cooperate and act on a global basis to contribute to international security."