SEOUL, South Korea — The United States has formally suspended a major military exercise with South Korea that was scheduled for August. President Donald Trump had pledged to stop the “war games” after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Pentagon said planning has been halted on the August drill but no decisions have been made on any other military exercises with South Korea.
A brief explanation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises:
The U.S. and South Korea hold major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea.
The spring maneuvers — actually two overlapping exercises called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — include live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships. About 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops usually participate. The drills were held in April this year after a temporary delay to encourage North Korean participation in the South Korean Winter Olympics.
The summer exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, consists mainly of computer simulations to hone joint decision-making and planning. Some 17,500 American and 50,000 South Korean troops participated last year. The drill began in the 1970s.
The exercises help ensure the two militaries, from their top commanders to troops in the field, can work together smoothly and seamlessly in a crisis. Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official, calls the joint drills and the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea the core of the alliance between the two countries. He says the American military presence “wouldn’t mean much if the militaries don’t practice through joint drills.”
Trump, after meeting with Kim on June 12, said stopping the “war games” exercise would save money, “Plus, I think it’s very provocative.” North Korea has always portrayed the exercises as rehearsals for invading the country, but the U.S. and South Korea have not, until Trump’s words, called the exercises a provocation. The allies have insisted the drills are purely defensive, to ensure they would be ready at a moment’s notice if the North were to attack the South.
Certain aspects of the exercises and North Korea’s responses have been especially sensitive. The U.S. has sent B-1B aircraft from Guam on bombing runs over South Korean ranges, sometimes as a show of force after North Korean missile tests. The U.S. and its allies have called those missile tests “provocations.”
South Korean media also reported in 2016 that the spring exercises that year would include training for a “beheading operation” aimed at removing Kim Jong Un and toppling his government in the event of war. North Korea’s army said such a plan would be the “height of hostile acts” and its weapons were ready to fire. The alleged decapitation training plan was never confirmed.