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U.S. aircraft carriers conduct drills in South China Sea

The aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz entered the South China Sea on Saturday for military exercises. File Photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI
The aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz entered the South China Sea on Saturday for military exercises. File Photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI | License Photo

July 4 (UPI) -- U.S. aircraft carriers carried out exercises in the South China Sea, U.S. military officials said Saturday as China conducts its own drills in the disputed area.

Rear Adm. George Wikoff, commander of the strike group, said the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz carriers navigated to an unspecified area of the South China Sea for the drills.

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"The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability," he said.

The move comes days after China began its own exercises in the international waters. The show of force comes as China aggressively lays claim to the islands there, despite counterclaims by neighboring countries, officials said.

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Wikoff said the U.S. drills were not a response to China's.

The two U.S. aircraft carriers conducted exercises in the Philippine Sea this week along with the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its accompanying destroyers and cruisers.

With the USS Ronald Reagan nearby at the time, it was the first time since 2017 that three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Seventh Fleet were together in proximity of the contentious South China Sea.

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The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Carrier Air Wing 17, the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton and the guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson.

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group includes the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, Carrier Air Wing 5, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin.

The Nimitz Strike Group left San Diego for deployment in early June.

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The USS Theodore Roosevelt resumed its deployment on June 4 after it was diverted to Guam to deal with an onboard COVID-19 breakout.

The USS Ronald Reagan, whose homeport is Yokusuka, Japan, also left port in early June.

Ed Adamczyk contributed to this report.

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