News / Asia

US, South Korea to Hold Joint Military Exercises

U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jets sit in heavy fog on the deck of the USS George Washington, during a joint military exercise off South Korea's West Sea. (File)
U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jets sit in heavy fog on the deck of the USS George Washington, during a joint military exercise off South Korea's West Sea. (File)

The United States and South Korea are to hold two military exercises on the Korean peninsula soon. They will be the first such war games since the recent change of leadership in North Korea.

There had been speculation one or both of the joint U.S.-South Korean military drills might be postponed or called off this year. But on Friday, the U.S. and South Korea militaries announced the annual exercises would go ahead.

There has been some thought that war games might give North Korea's young, untested leader, Kim Jong Un, an excuse to flex his muscles to bolster national unity and his own credentials. He succeeded his late father last month and is a four-star general but is not known to have performed any actual military service.

Professor Kim Yeon-su, a specialist on North Korea, at the National Defense University in Seoul, downplays such concerns.

Kim says Pyongyang, in New Year's remarks carried in the state media, called 2012 a year for improving the lives of its citizens. So he says North Korea can be expected to focus on economic development rather than responding to routine annual training drills by the United States and South Korea with a military provocation.

A command post exercise, named "Key Resolve" is to start on February 27. It will involve 2,100 U.S. personnel, including 800 coming from Japan and elsewhere, as well as the participation of 200,000 South Korean troops.

Members of the U.N. Command, as well as officers from Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark and Norway, are to observe.

U.S. military officials describe it as a training exercise, which will last until March 9, focusing on crisis management with a "whole of government" approach.

It will overlap with the start of a two-month joint tactical field exercise, known as "Foal Eagle." The training is to involve 11,000 U.S. forces, along with a still undecided number of  South Korean military divisions and smaller-sized units.

Foal Eagle, is to run from March 1 through April 30.

The United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNMAC) says, at the border village of Panmunjom, it informed North Korea's army of the exercise dates and that it would be a non-provocative training.

North Korea does not see it that way. It has repeatedly called for the annual joint exercises to be scrapped, contending they are a provocation and a prelude to an invasion.

The Korean peninsula has been under a tense armistice since 1953. The three-year Korean civil war, which also involved U.S.-led United Nations forces on the side of the South and Chinese troops fighting for the North, ended with a truce. No peace treaty has been signed.

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