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Full scale S. Korea-US drills not near: US Army chief

US Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. (Yonhap)
US Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. (Yonhap)
US Army chief Gen. James McConville said Tuesday he does not see South Korea and the United States returning soon to their full-scale joint military exercises, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We think those (larger exercises) are very, very important. But COVID-19 introduced a kind of a new fog and friction. That just makes these exercises a little more difficult,” McConville told a teleconference hosted by Defense News.

South Korea and the US scaled down their annual drills in August after skipping them in March for the first time since the military exercises were introduced to deter aggression from a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Also on Tuesday, retired Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who was commander of the 28,500-strong United States Forces Korea between 2013 and 2016, described the drills as “essential” and said skipping them could impact how the combined forces maintain deterrence against North Korea.

“North Korea does a very large series of training events, and they have not stopped doing theirs either. … They’re consistent, they’re constant. And for the very same reasons they do, we need to train as well,” the commander told a teleconference hosted by the Stimson Center and World Affairs Council of Charlotte.

The prolonged defense cost-sharing talks between Seoul and Washington could also affect the alliance, the commander added. The two allies have yet to reach a consensus on how to share the costs for the upkeep of the US forces here, due to differences over burden sharing.

Washington is pressing for a dramatic hike in Seoul’s contributions.

“My personal opinion is we need to settle this. We need to do it quickly,” Scaparrotti said, adding that the US military presence serves American interests as well.

By Choi Si-young (