Huge military exercise in Pacific wraps up

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – The largest U.S. military exercise in the Pacific in decades ended Friday after showing North Korea and other nations that the United States can swiftly muster a huge combat force in the region, officials said.

The five-day “Valiant Shield” exercises massed an armada of three aircraft carriers and 25 other ships along with 22,000 troops and 280 warplanes off this tiny U.S. territory about halfway between Hawaii and Japan.

The Everett-based aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, took part in the exercise.

Tensions are rising in the region over the possible test-launch of a North Korean long-range missile. Two guided missile cruisers participating in the games were assigned off the Korean coast to monitor the situation.

Officials stressed that the exercises, America’s largest in the Pacific since the Vietnam War, were not held in response to the North Korean activity or directed at any one nation, but said they did demonstrate the United States’ capacity to respond to a crisis.

“Valiant Shield was a demonstration of the U.S. Pacific Command’s ability to quickly amass a force in a joint combat environment and project peace, power and presence in the region,” Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula said. He said the exercises, ended as scheduled Friday evening.

Along with the three carriers and their strike forces, the maneuvers featured a four-plane squadron of B-2 stealth bombers, and dozens of fighter jets.

The aircraft flew 1,993 sorties, individual flights with takeoffs and landings, according to Sr. Master Sgt. Charles Ramey, an Air Force spokesman.

The exercises for the first time were opened to top Chinese military officers. Senior U.S. military officials said they are cautiously trying to mend a rift with Beijing.

Adm. William Fallon, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, said before the exercises began that China was expected to reciprocate.

“I think that would be the logical step,” said Capt. Terry Kraft, who showed the delegation around the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. “We showed them everything we do from top to bottom. We gave them a very good, transparent look at how we do operations out here.”

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