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War games too closeto reality

Seoul, March 16 (Reuters): US and South Korean officers hunched over computers at a military base in central Seoul today simulating a war with the “opfor” — code for the opposing forces of reclusive communist North Korea.

The annual allied war games come as tension rises over North Korea’s suspected ambitions to join the nuclear club with two separate programmes aimed at developing atomic weapons.

North Korea said this year’s military exercises by US-South Korean forces were preparation for “pre-emptive nuclear attack at any time”.

“The DPRK (North Korea) cannot remain a passive onlooker to the US intensified military moves as they are a dangerous military racket to ignite the second Korean war,” said the North’s ruling party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun.

But the US and South Korean officials running the computer games in Seoul said this month’s Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSOI) exercise was planned nine months ago — long before the nuclear issue flared up last October.

Officials were tight-lipped about the scenarios for which they are training about 14,000 allied officers and troops.

“A battle is going on somewhere in the Republic of Korea,” said Jude Shea, a retired US infantry officer who now runs the drills. “Ground is being taken and lost, casualties are occurring, and supplies are being consumed,” he told reporters.

The stress and pressures of wartime decision-making are simulated with “a live, thinking enemy who has the ability to achieve success on the battlefield,” said Shea.

“This is not a video game.”

The enemy — referred to not as North Korea, but as the “opfor” (opposing forces) or the red team — is led by a retired South Korean general and includes US military intelligence officers who are well-versed in North Korean military tactics.

“Everything we think the North Koreans will do, we do,” said US Army Lt James McMillian. He declined to describe North Korean tactics or say how US officials learn about them.

The RSOI drill is run around the clock using a sophisticated web of computer centres in South Korea, Hawaii and Virginia to practise logistics of moving and supplying troops, planes, ships and vehicles under wartime conditions.

Later this week, the US and South Korean forces will kick off their annual Foal Eagle exercises, field war games involving mock battles and amphibious landings. The drills will involve many of the 37,000 US troops stationed in South Korea.

American military muscle has gone on full display in the South. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was sent to the western Pacific after US forces deployed six F-117A “Stealth” warplanes in the region this week.

The US air force also prepared to resume spy flights off the coast of North Korea.

The Hawaii-based Carl Vinson, moored just outside the South Korean port city of Pusan with 70 aircraft and eight squadrons, will go to sea to support US-South Korean forces in the drills.

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