July 18, 2019 12:31
Seoul and Washington are preparing to stage a joint military exercise dubbed "Alliance 19-2" as scheduled, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
The confirmation came a day after North Korea threatened to boycott working-level talks with the U.S. if the drill goes ahead.
"Working with [South Korea], this training program has been adjusted to maintain readiness and support diplomatic efforts," Pentagon spokesman David Eastburn told Radio Free Asia. "This routine combined training demonstrates the United States' commitment to the [South Korea]-U.S. alliance and defense of the Korean Peninsula through activities that enhance combined readiness."
Meanwhile, the nominee for the long-vacant post of defense secretary, Mark Esper, wrote to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing saying joint drills are "essential" to maintaining the readiness of U.S. forces in South Korea. He added they ensure that the U.S. and South Korean militaries "can respond together to any potential North Korean military threat."
He also pointed out that Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan agreed in February to adopt a modernized training program that suits the security situation on the peninsula.
The "Alliance 19-2" drill will test South Korea's readiness to take over full operational control of troops in wartime.
North Korea claims that the drill violates U.S. President Donald Trump's promise to halt major "war games" with South Korea, but the exercise is a significantly scaled-down version of the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian drill that used to be held at this time.
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