South Korea, US kick off joint military drills after month-long delay
The annual joint exercises, which have taken place since 1997, ran for two months in 2017 but have been reduced to just one month this year, Yonhap reported. Foal Eagle drills will be followed by a two weeks of Key Resolve exercises, which are command-post training based on computer simulation. The latter is expected to start in mid-April, which means they are going to overlap with a historic summit between North Korea’s leader Kim Jon-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on April 27.
The date for the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries in more than 10 years was set on Thursday. The Key Resolve will run from April 23 to May 3, and will see some 12,000 US troops participating.
The drills were initially scheduled to be launched in late February or early March but were postponed because of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which concluded on March 18 and marked the beginning of a thaw in relations between the two Koreas.
One of the highlights of this year’s Foal Eagle maneuvers will be the involvement of the USS ‘Wasp’ amphibious-assault ship, which has recently been spotted operating off the coast of Okinawa. The Japanese island plays a strategic role for US deployment in the region and hosts some 26,000 US troops.
The warship will be carrying fifth-generation F-35B stealth fighter jets. The US Navy, which has not commented on the potential involvement of the 844ft-long “quasi” aircraft carrier in the drills, recently announced a first successful landing of an F-35B on the USS ‘Wasp’ in the Pacific, describing it as “one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime.”
USS ‘Bonhomme Richard,’ another Wasp-class amphibious-assault ship, will also participate in the maneuvers, Yonhap reported. An amphibious landing exercise codenamed SsangYong, or “Double Dragon,” will be held through April 8.
Over 11,500 US troops will feature in the war games, including those mobilized from outside of the country. Some 23,500 US forces are stationed in South Korea on a permanent basis. The number of troops involved in this year’s games will be the same as previous years, with no major military show-off expected to take place. Neither massive US aircraft carriers, nor nuclear submarines will join the drills, according to Yonhap. Announcing the resumption of the drills in March, South Korea’s Defense Ministry stated they would be carried out “on a similar size as previous years.”
The relatively low-key exercises will finish just ahead of the widely anticipated talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jon-un. While the date for the much-hyped meeting has not yet been set, it is expected to take place by May.
Pyongyang has repeatedly denounced US-South Korean joint maneuvers on its doorstep as a provocation and a rehearsal for invasion. The US military, however, insists that the planned exercises are “defense-oriented” and that “there is no reason for North Korea to view them as provocation.”
North Korea was notified of the drills in advance through the United Nations Command, the Pentagon said at the time.