July 22, 2019 12:19
The government wants to change the name of an upcoming joint exercise with U.S. forces in a bid to soothe agitated North Korean nerves and bring the renegade country back to the negotiating table.
The "Aliance 19-2" drill is simply sequentially numbered according to the year, in a break from the grandiose word salad the Pentagon normally slaps on such exercises. But even that is not good enough for North Korea, which is taking exception to the term "alliance" and has threatened to boycott working-level talks with the U.S. over it.
The drill will test South Korea's readiness to assume full operational troop control in the event of an invasion by North Korea.
The Defense Ministry claimed the date and name of the joint military exercises have yet to be finalized. A government source said, "We have decided to hold joint military exercises for about three weeks starting early next month, but North Korea is vehemently opposed to the term 'alliance.'"
The exercise replaces the more blusteringly named Key Resolve, Foal Eagle and Freedom Guardian drills after U.S. President Donald Trump promised North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to scrap large-scale "war games" on the peninsula. South Korea and the U.S. have drastically scaled down the joint drills.
The Alliance 19-2 drill does not involve any equipment but is focused on testing the South Korean military's "initial operational capability" or IOC for the handover of full operational troop control from the U.S.
In the new arrangement, a South Korean general will helm the drills, while the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea serves as second-in-command. The government aims to regain wartime operational control of its troops by May 2022, at which point the exercise will probably come to an end.
Shin Beom-chul at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies said, "Renaming the drill due to protests from North Korea is tantamount to giving up our military sovereignty."
But Cheong Wa Dae's presidential secretary Choi Jong-kun denied any other changes are planned. "The purpose of the upcoming exercise is not to practice attacks, but to strengthen our alliance," Choi said. "It will take place as scheduled."
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