South Korea and the U.S. plan to undertake their annual military drills starting later this month despite North Korea’s threats to renege on a planned reunion of separated families.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises will begin on Feb. 24 and run through Mar. 6 and April 18, respectively, with the aim of ensuring the allies’ joint combat readiness, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
The announcement came days after Pyongyang threatened to “reconsider” the agreement to hold the first round of family reunions in more than three years at Mount Geumgangsan from Feb. 20-25. It lambasted Washington for flying a B-52 strategic bomber over the West Sea during a drill.
The U.N. Command here informed the North Korean army of the programs’ schedule and its “defensive nature” on Sunday and will do so for other neighbors on Monday, Kim said.
“Key Resolve is a vital exercise to strengthen readiness of the Republic of Korea and U.S. Alliance,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the Combined Forces Command, said in a statement. “The scenarios are realistic, enabling us to train on our essential tasks and respond to any crisis which may arise.”
Some 10,000 South Korean and 5,200 U.S. troops, about 1,100 of which will come from overseas bases, are expected to take part in the computer-based command post drill.
Foal Eagle, a series of joint and combined field training exercises, will cover ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations and involve 7,500 American forces, with around 5,100 from off the peninsula, the CFC said.
But the number of South Korean participants is likely to fall slightly from about 220,000 last year given that members of the Second Operations Command Headquarters have been mobilized for quarantine activities to contain the spread of bird flu here, military officials said.
“So long as South Korean and U.S. combined forces exist, they will have to stage exercises to maintain lasting and necessary combat capabilities,” Kim added.
Cross-border tension sharply escalated during last year’s drills as the North repeatedly threatened an atomic war after the U.S. sent B-52 and B-2 bombers and an F-22 stealth fighter over the peninsula and mobilized a nuclear submarine.
The South initially picked Feb. 17-22 for a fresh round of family reunions, apparently to sidestep the exercises and the Feb. 16 anniversary of the birth of late leader Kim Jong-il, for which the North will stage a large celebration.
Pyongyang spurned Seoul’s earlier proposal last month for the family reunions, blaming the allies’ military drills, the winter cold spell and short preparation time.
“As we explained repeatedly, Key Resolve is an annual and defensive military exercise that has nothing to do with the upcoming family reunions,” Unification Ministry spokesperson Kim Eui-do said.
“Accordingly we think that the reunions must take place as agreed by North Korea.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)