The Latest: US military leaders stress need for joint drills

The Latest on the start of the annual U.S.-South Korea war games (all times local):

3 p.m.

U.S. military commanders have dismissed the calls for Washington and Seoul to pause or downsize their joint military exercises to tamp down the tension created by North Korean threats to lob missiles toward Guam, saying that the drills are critical for maintaining military readiness against Pyongyang.

Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told reporters in a visit to South Korea on Tuesday that while finding a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear problem is the priority, there's a need to support diplomacy with "credible combat power."

Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, says the allies should continue the war games until they "have reason not to." ''That reason has not yet emerged," he said.

They spoke hours after North Korea's military issued its standard fiery threats, vowing "merciless retaliation" for exercises Pyongyang claims are an invasion rehearsal.