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3 Mar, 2019 01:31

US & South Korea agree to scrap major military drills to foster denuclearization – Seoul

US & South Korea agree to scrap major military drills to foster denuclearization – Seoul

Washington and Seoul will no longer conduct the large-scale Foal Eagle and Key Resolve war games, the South Korean Defense Ministry said on Sunday. It comes several days after US President Trump complained about the drills' cost.

The cancelation of the annual war games, originally scheduled to kick off in spring, was announced by the South Korean military, as it made public the details of a call between acting US defense chief Patrick Shanahan and his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, Yonhap reported.

Seoul said that the move to call off the exercises was in support of the diplomatic efforts to pursue a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. The drills have been paired since 2001 and traditionally take place in February and March. North Korea saw the allies' annual saber-rattling as preparation for invasion.

"The minister and secretary made clear that the alliance's decision regarding the adjustment of the exercise and drills reflects both countries' expectation to back diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions and achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through a final, full verified method," the ministry said in a statement.

By ditching the costly war games, the US and South Korea are not eliminating joint exercises completely. They are planning new command-post drills and will continue to carry out field maneuvers. However, these are expected to be conducted on a significantly lower scale.

In the run-up to the announcement, unnamed officials told CNN that Washington and Seoul might instead carry out drills "at a small unit level" that would feature "virtual training." NBC News reported, also citing officials, that the large-scale war games would be replaced by "mission-specific training."

READ MORE: Wind-down of 'irritating' war games: US & South Korea suspend military drill planned for August

The scaling-down was widely expected, since Trump has repeatedly bemoaned the drills' hefty price tag that the US has to cover. Following the first Trump-Kim summit in June 2018, Trump said that the US would halt joint drills with South Korea, while calling them "quite provocative," stirring unease among his own military.

Shortly after that, Washington and Seoul suspended the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises scheduled for August.

In November, then-Pentagon chief James Mattis stated that the Foal Eagle drills were "being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy."

Also on rt.com Trump says ‘no reason’ for costly war games with South Korea, blames China for stalemate with North

Speaking in the wake of his Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this week, Trump said the drills with South Korea were "fun and nice" but a "very, very expensive thing," and that he "gave that up quite a while ago."

READ MORE: 'Progress' but no deal: Mixed scorecard for Trump & Kim's Hanoi summit

Foal Eagle typically sees some 11,500 US troops taking part alongside 290,000 South Korean military forces in the drills that include air, ground and naval field operations. Key Resolve is a computer-simulated exercise that is also used to draw in a large number of troops from both sides, including about 12,200 Americans and 10,000 South Korean servicemen.

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