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Rice visits the U.S.-South Korean war command post

SEOUL, South Korea—A Black Hawk helicopter on Saturday lifted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a secret command post under a mountain outside Seoul where U.S. and South Korean military operations would be directed if war ever broke out.

Rice visited Command Post Tango during a training exercise held twice a year for several thousand U.S. forces from Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States.

Rice told U.S. and South Korean military personnel she wanted to thank them "for what you do here on the frontlines of freedom." She was the most senior U.S. official ever to visit Command Post Tango, short for Theater, Air, Naval and Ground Operations.

The U.S.-South Korean alliance, she said, is "one of the bulwarks of freedom in East Asia."

Rice spoke in the communication room where Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the four-star general who commands U.S. and South Korean forces, receives and analyzes intelligence.

Digital communication about the movement of military personnel throughout South Korea and on carriers at sea goes up on a multi-screen panel the military calls its "wall of knowledge."

Col. Mary Ann Cummings said "over several hundred" (the exact number was classified) military personnel worked full-time at the command post, a large series of corridors and rooms dug deep into a mountain covered with bare trees, pines and boulders. Reporters covering Rice's visit were the first ever allowed in.

The exact location also was secret—"south of Seoul," Cummings said—but close enough to the capital to put it in range of North Korean artillery. The De-Militarized Zone between North and South Korea is just about 30 miles from the South Korean capital.

The ongoing training exercise covers battle command, staging and moving troops and protecting, tracking and sustaining them in a war.

There are 32,500 American service personnel in South Korea—down from 37,500 last year.

Rice thanked South Koreans for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also noted that some people transferred to Iraq from the joint command in South Korea had been killed.

"We know that nothing of value is ever earned without sacrifice," she said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Condoleezza Rice

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