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Sun, 22 Oct 2017 14:02:00 +0000
(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, U.S. and South Korean Navy ships prepared for an event they hope will never happen: a North Korean land and air attack against the south.
The annual bilateral Maritime Counter Special Operations Force exercise involved the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier; the USS Stethem, a destroyer; as well as other U.S. and South Korean aircraft, ships and submarines.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz was aboard the Reagan in the Sea of Japan for the exercise, which came ahead of President Trump’s first official visit to Asia next month.
Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Navy's carrier strike group in the Pacific, said the U.S. is committed to defending itself and its allies.
"This exercise is an example of how we train with our allies in order to be ready to respond to a range of crises," he said.
North Korea's continued ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests have highlighted the importance of the Reagan’s mission to bring peace and stability to the region, Dalton told ABC News.
For the Reagan's top officers and pilots, that means a focus on preparedness, not the fluctuating rhetoric of Kim Jong Un and President Trump or North Korea’s latest military actions.
This makes exercises such as the Maritime Counter Special Operations Force all the more important.
"This is what we have been training for," said Cmdr. Alex Hampton, who has flown with the U.S. Navy for 16 years. "Are we prepared for war? Absolutely. And I am confident in our abilities to execute anything that our nation command authority gives us to do."
North Korea is increasingly hostile and technologically advanced. Over the summer, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with the ability to hit the continental United States. In September, the regime claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
This week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a Washington think-tank that North Korea could be just months away from perfecting the capability to attach a nuclear weapon to an ICBM.
But it's not just North Korea's advances that are increasing tension in the region.
U.S. presidents have spent decades trying to counter North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, but President Trump has taken a different approach with his blunt rhetoric toward Pyongyang.
In August, Trump said North Korean threats toward the United States would be "met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."
North Korea responded, saying the regime had plans to target Guam in mid-August, though those plans were never carried out.
As for the 5,000 sailors on board the Reagan, they hope their presence off the coast of the Korean Peninsula can deter a North Korean strike that would lead to war.
"By demonstrating our ability to defend ourselves, the idea is that we don't have to," Dalton said.
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