YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The United States and South Korea kicked off a two-week computer war exercise Monday, with North Korea denouncing the annual war games as a “grave challenge to peace and security” on the Korean Peninsula.

Ulchi Focus Lens brings together tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops to help improve inter-operability — their ability to work together — and command and control. The exercise, called the world’s largest computer-driven war simulation, is designed to improve deterrent capabilities, U.S. officials have said.

Nonetheless, North Korea lashed out Monday against UFL.

“The projected saber-rattling once again proves that all what the U.S. has publicized is nothing but hypocrisy,” the North’s official Korea Central News Agency quoted a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman as saying. “The Bush administration’s reckless strategy of preemptive attack,” he said, “has been put into the phase of implementation after going beyond the phase of discussion.

“Now that the U.S. scenario for a war of aggression against the DPRK has entered the phase of its implementation, the DPRK is left with no option but to increase its war deterrent force both in quality and quantity,” the spokesman said, referring to the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Six-nation talks over the North’s nuclear ambitions have stalled over various stumbling blocks, with the United States demanding a full and verifiable halt of the nuclear programs.

“The U.S. evermore undisguised moves for war are little short of destroying the basic foundation for the six-party talks to seek a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula,” the spokesman said, concluding with a threat against South Korea.

“The South Korean authorities should bear in mind that they would have to pay dearly for such treacherous acts as joining the U.S. in its north-targeted exercises.”

U.S. officials have said the exercise — which is being held for the 30th time — is not a threat to North Korea.

“UFL is designed to evaluate and improve combined and joint coordination, procedures, plans and systems for conducting contingency operations between the forces of both countries,” a U.S. Force Korea statement on the exercise reads. “The exercise involves a number of U.S. military units assigned on the Korean peninsula, as well as ROK forces and a small number of U.S. forces deployed from outside the country.”

South Korean Ministry of National Defense officials said Monday the exercise would involve some 20,000 U.S. and South Korean troops. About 6,500 of the American troops are participating from the United States, officials said.

The exercise is named after Ulchi Munduk, a Korean general, according to, a nongovernmental military information Web site. He was commander in chief of the army of Goguryo, the former name for Korea. Ulchi is credited with outsmarting attacking Chinese forces around 612 A.D., making him one of Korea’s most famous military officers.

VFW contest

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is offering an April 2005 “Return to Vietnam” trip for 12 veterans who earned Purple Heart medals while serving in that war.

The tour includes stops in several parts of Vietnam, with the VFW covering airfare and accommodations. Entries deadline is Nov. 15; winners will be selected by random drawing and notified by mail or e-mail in early December, officials said.

Call Bobby Bradley at DSN 764-3534 for more information locally.

— From staff reports

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