South Korea-US joint military exercises are to be suspended when the two Koreas’ leaders hold a historic summit on Friday, in a move aimed at setting a peaceful tone for what could be a major breakthrough to easing cross-border tensions.
According to the allies’ militaries, the first part of the annual Key Resolve exercise wrapped up Thursday and the second phase will kick off Monday. A session to review the performance of the computer-simulated games is scheduled for Saturday.
The allies’ military leaders were reportedly considering a plan to end the field-training Foal Eagle exercise on Thursday before the inter-Korean summit. They had reportedly convened a meeting to discuss the plan.
|CH-47 Chinook chopper flies over US Army garrison Camp Humphrey Thursday. Yonhap|
“Key Resolve is not scheduled during the summit and an after-action review will take place Saturday,” said an official from the US-led Combined Forces’ Command, which oversees the joint exercise along with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The official requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises kicked off on Monday and April 1, respectively, after being postponed until after the PyeongChang Olympics in February. When announcing the resumption of the drills last month, South Korea’s military said the period of the Foal Eagle exercise was to be cut by half.
The allies’ military leaders have taken a series of measures to keep the exercises lower profile than in previous years, including not deploying US strategic assets such as aircraft carriers and reducing media exposure.
Involving the USS Carl Vinson and F-35B stealth fighters, last year’s Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises were considered the largest ever in response to an increase in missile launches from North Korea, which accuses the annual exercises of being a “war rehearsal.”
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un struck a different tone this time. During his meeting with South Korean special envoys last month in Pyongyang, Kim said he would “understand” if the drills went ahead as planned.
The Key Resolve exercise consists of two parts and its operational objectives vary. The first part postulates defensive operations against a possible North Korean attack. The second part often centers on the allies’ operations beyond the border with the North.