The crack US Navy Seal team that took out Osama bin Laden is reportedly in training in South Korea, conducting field training operations, amid rising tension with North Korea.
South Korean media claims the famed Seal Team 6, which killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, is part of the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercise being carried out from March 7 to April 30 in South Korea.
While US military would not confirm the reports, it said "ground, air, naval and special operations [are taking part in] several joint and combined field training operations" which involve up to 17,000 troops.
The special operations teams are thought to also include the Army Rangers, Delta Force and Green Berets. The training started one day after US deployed its state of the art THAAD missile defence system to the region.
South Korea's JoongAng Daily has claimed the teams would take part in a drill to simulate the removal of Kim Jong-un, a move denied by Former US Navy Commander Gary Ross.
Asked about the Navy team's participation in March, Commander Ross said: "There are variety of Special Operations Forces [SOF] participating in Foal Eagle, as they do in most regional exercises."
"Foal Eagle is a regularly-scheduled, annual exercise that is the culmination of many months of planning and it is not being conducted in response to the current situation on peninsula," he said.
KEY LINE OF DEFENCE
The training began the day after the US deployed its mobile THAAD missile defence system to South Korea that is becoming increasingly important as tensions mount with Pyongyang.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) is a "hit-to-kill" system that provides capability to intercept and defend population centres around the world. Makers Lockheed Martin claim it has a 100 per cent success rate and describe it as "one of the most advanced missile defence systems in the world."
It works by using radar to detect incoming threats and firing interceptors from truck-mounted launchers which destroy missiles using kinetic energy.
The US claims it's a "strictly defensive" system but moving it to the region has angered China and Russia, and inspired protests in South Korea by those who say it contributes to escalating militarisation on the Korean peninsula.
China claim the radar reaches too far into its land and could be used aggressively. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has previously said it could threaten "China's legitimate national security interests".
The US Missile Defence Agency says THAAD provides essential protection against an "unprecedented level" of nuclear tests and launches since the start of 2016 from North Korea.
The rogue state has expanded its tests in size, sophistication and scope in recent years leading to fears it is preparing to launch missiles to targets in either Japan, South Korea or the continental US, having calculated that nuclear capability is the only way to secure strength.
North Korea is believed to have between 10-20 nuclear missiles and hundreds of Scud and No Dong missiles that could reach South Korea and Japan. It's also thought to have vast chemical stockpiles and a network of secret tunnels that could be used in a war.
Tensions have rapidly escalated following US air strikes in Syria showing the Trump administration will not tolerate chemical weapons being used. The US also sent warships to waters off North Korea in a show of force.
The move inspired an aggressive fight back from North Korea who said the US would be "wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions."
"What happened in Syria once again taught a bitter lesson that ... one can defend oneself from the imperialist aggression only when one has one's strength," an official spokesman for the country said.