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Chinese invitation a first as US holds war games off Guam

HAGATNA, Guam -- As tensions with North Korea rise, three US aircraft carriers filled the skies with fighters yesterday for one of the largest US military exercises in decades off this small island in the Pacific.

For the first time ever, a Chinese delegation was invited to observe the US war games. As the show of American military power began, North Korea was defending its right to test an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The maneuvers, dubbed ``Valiant Shield," bring three carriers together in the Pacific for the first time since the Vietnam War. About 30 ships, 280 aircraft, and 22,000 troops will be participating in the five-day war games.

The exercises are intended to boost the ability of the Navy, Air Force, and Marines to work together and respond quickly to potential contingencies in this part of the world, US military officials said. Even Coast Guard vessels were participating.

``The exercises are taking place on land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace," said Senior Master Sergeant Charles Ramey. ``They cover the whole spectrum."

The maneuvers mark the first major operation in this remote US territory about halfway between Hawaii and Japan since the announcement last month that about 8,000 Marines would be moved here from Okinawa as part of the biggest realignment of US forces in Asia in decades.

Though planned months ago, they come amid heightened concern in Asia over North Korea.

Officials in the United States, South Korea, and Japan say they believe North Korea is preparing to test-launch a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile. The missile is believed to be able to reach the Western United States.

Pyongyang shocked Tokyo by launching a Taepodong that flew over Japan's main island in 1998. North Korea claimed the launch successfully placed a satellite in orbit, but that has been widely disputed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed on a moratorium on long-range missile launches during a summit with Japan in 2002. Pyongyang has honored that agreement since, but Tokyo has threatened to impose sanctions if it goes through with a launch this time.

Military officials here had no comment on the activity in North Korea, or on what specific tactics or mock war threats are being used in the exercises.

They stress, however, that the exercises have been opened to outside observation and are not intended to provoke North Korea.

``These exercises are not aimed at any one nation," said Commander Mike Brown. The exercises are instead intended to provide training in ``detecting, locating, tracking, and engaging" a wide range of threats in the air, land, and sea.

Representatives from China, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Russia, and Singapore were invited to attend.

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