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(LEAD) Three U.S. aircraft carriers set for joint drill near Korea

2017/11/09 09:28

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(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details; ADDS photo)

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- Three U.S. aircraft carriers will soon conduct a rare combined exercise in the Western Pacific, the U.S. military announced Thursday, as President Donald Trump is traveling to Asia.

The three carriers -- USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt -- plan to stage "coordinated operations" in international waters from Saturday till next Tuesday, according to the 7th Fleet.

The flattops are leading strike groups also involving nuclear-powered submarines and advanced destroyers.

It's the first time for the U.S. to operate three of its 11 carriers simultaneously in the area since 2007. Such a move is widely interpreted as a show of force against North Korea's nuclear threats and China's assertiveness in the South China Sea.

The USS Ronald Reagan, a U.S. aircraft carrier, in a file photo (Yonhap) The USS Ronald Reagan, a U.S. aircraft carrier, in a file photo (Yonhap)

"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 a statement.

He added, "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."

   The fleet stopped short of revealing the exact venue for the training.

A defense source said the three carriers will convene at sea relatively close to the Korean Peninsula.

Another source said they are expected to hold a joint drill with South Korea's Navy in the East Sea.

Trump may also board one of the carriers in person to demonstrate the U.S. firepower and its regional security commitment.