March 21, 2018 12:48
Annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. kick off on April 1, over a month later than usual because of the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
The two sides announced the schedule together on Tuesday. "The Foal Eagle combined field training exercise will be staged for a month throughout April, while the Key Resolve command post exercise lasts two weeks from mid-April," a military spokesman here said.
The Foal Eagle exercise has gone on for 50-60 days in previous years but will be shortened this time, and no strategic assets from the U.S. like a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will take part.
The aim seems not to ramp up tensions unduly ahead of summits between the two Koreas and North Korea and the U.S. in late April and May.
The U.S. is bringing no nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, and strategic bombers this year. That means the two allies will probably not stage any drills of precision strikes on North Korea's key military facilities, including nuclear and missile bases, and the presidential palace in Pyongyang.
"The Key Resolve exercise may overlap with the inter-Korean summit," a military spokesman here said. "But the Foal Eagle exercise won't clash with anything."
When he met special envoys from South Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he understood that the joint South Korea-U.S. drills would be staged this year on "a similar scale seen in previous years," But he added, "I expect that it will be possible to adjust the drills if the situation stabilizes on the Korean Peninsula."
It seems that South Korea and the U.S. are showing their willingness to compromise Pyongyang by excluding U.S. strategic weapons from the drills and shortening them.
The U.S. Defense Department also issued a statement, with a Pentagon spokesman saying the drills "will include all services and are of the same scale, scope and duration as previous years."
The U.S. military said that a total of 23,700 U.S. troops -- 12,200 for the Key Resolve and 11,500 for the Foal Eagle -- will take part. They will join about 290,000 South Korean troops. The numbers are much the same as last year.
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