July 03, 2020 09:39
Korea and the U.S. are likely to cancel a joint military drill scheduled for mid-August amid the coronavirus epidemic.
"We're making preparations on the assumption that the two countries will stage the joint exercise next month as scheduled," a government official here said Thursday. "But we've yet to make a decision whether to go ahead and when and how to carry it out as there has been little sign of improvement in the coronavirus situation."
The two countries have worked out three scenarios -- to carry out the drill as planned, to downscale it, or to cancel it completely.
The problem is the latest surge in infections in the U.S. Normally, troops from the U.S. mainland take part in the drills. But this year's joint spring training in March was canceled as most troops from the U.S. were unable to travel to Korea because the virus was spreading rapidly there.
The cancellation could delay the handover of full operational control of Korean troops to Seoul, which is scheduled for 2022.
The two countries are assessing the preparedness for the handover in three stages. Last year, they tested the initial operational capability of the Korean military. But they are worried that the second-stage assessment might be canceled this year.
A military spokesman here said, "We have to wait until early next month, when U.S. troops begin to arrive from the mainland" because whether or not to stage the drill depends on the number of participating U.S. troops.
Another variable is differences in views about which side will be in overall charge. Last year, the drills were carried out under the U.S. military's control in the first half and under the Korean military's control in the second half to see if Korea was up to the job.
But as this year's spring training was canceled, the U.S. has called for the summer exercise to be staged under the control of U.S. Forces Korea Commander Robert Abrams, whereas the Korean government has insisted that it should run it.
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