Thursday, 17 October, 2019

US and South Korea to announce suspension of 'large-scale' military drill

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Deanna Wagner | 20 June, 2018, 13:40

While the United States and South Korean governments have yet to make an official announcement about the suspension of the war games, speculation is rampant that they will soon announce halting the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise slated for August.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean war, which ended in 1953 in an armistice that left the two Koreas technically still at war. "No decisions on subsequent wargames have been made", she said.

A Pentagon statement confirmed the suspension and added that there would be a meeting between the secretaries of defense and state as well as Trump's national security adviser on the issue this week.

It said the exercises were "absolutely unacceptable" and strongly demanded their suspension.

South Korea and Japan are both market economies, democracies and United States allies and both are threatened by nuclear-armed North Korea, but their relationship is severely strained by historical and territorial issues. The drills were delayed this year because of North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

"To me, the idea of this as a cost saving measure doesn't really make much sense", Denmark said. "But it is a surprise to me that the United States would consider this an appealing point to concede on because it is 100% what Russian Federation and China have been pushing on our senior leadership and we've pushed back and said that it's not appropriate".

But other administration officials cast the move as a way to advance diplomacy with Pyongyang following North Korea's decision earlier this year to unilaterally suspend nuclear and missile tests.

The relationship between the countries has warmed in recent months after the two leaders - North Korea's Kim Jong Un and South Korea's Moon Jae In - met on the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries in April.

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Defense officials are also scrambling to pull together cost estimates for the various exercises with South Korea to inform Trump's assertion that the suspension will save an enormous amount of money.

The reclusive state spends almost a quarter of its GDP on its military, according to the U.S. State Department.

But the Trump administration has declined to provide any figures that back that assessment, and it's likely the USA military could carry out other training outside South Korea instead.

An immediate question was what to do about the annual "Ulchi Freedom Guardian", as the U.S.

South Koreans stage a protest near the US embassy in Seoul about the cessation of South Korean-US military exercises. Historically, they have featured as many as 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops, and included live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships. Key Resolve is a command and control exercises that relies on computer simulation, and involves about 12,000 US troops and 10,000 South Koreans.

More than 30,000 US troops participate in the American portion of the exercise.

"The Dokdo defence drill is a routine training conducted to prevent an invasion from external forces", said Choi Hyun-soo, a spokeswoman at Seoul's defence ministry.

North and South Korea failed to reach any concrete agreement during those talks, officials said.