South Korea, United States to conduct joint drills despite potential North backlash

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States will begin their annual joint drills in late February as planned to improve their joint combat readiness, the Combined Forces Command (CFC) said Monday, a move that could affect upcoming cross-border events aimed at improving ties with North Korea.

The allies will hold the computer-based command post exercise, called Key Resolve, from Feb. 24 to March 6, involving about 10,000 South Korean and 5,200 American forces, with 1,100 coming from overseas U.S. bases.

“Key Resolve is a vital exercise to strengthen readiness of the Republic of Korea and U.S. Alliance. I look forward to training with all of our ROK, U.S. and sending state participants,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, CFC commander, said in a release. “The scenarios are realistic, enabling us to train on our essential tasks and respond to any crisis which may arise.”

On Sunday, the United Nations Command informed the North of the exercise dates and the non-provocative nature of the trainings through the mission at the truce village of Panmunjom, the CFC said. Observers from other nations will ensure that they do not break the armistice agreement signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The announcement comes at a crucial time when the two Koreas are in talks to arrange reunions of families separated in the Korean War at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort Feb. 20-25, dates that partly overlap those of the planned military exercises.

After offering the family reunion event as part of its peace gesture, Pyongyang has repeatedly called on Seoul and Washington to cancel their planned joint drills that could raise tensions. Last week, it lashed out at the U.S. for flying a B-52 bomber over the peninsula last week when the Koreas reached a deal on the family reunions.

But Seoul and Washington have said they would press ahead, calling their military maneuvers defensive exercises.

The two allies also plan to hold combined field training exercises, called Foal Eagle, which involve a set of ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations from Feb. 24 to April 18.

The field training involves about 200,000 Korean and 7,500 U.S. American troops, with 5,100 of them coming from abroad, the CFC said, without elaborating details of military assets taking part in the drills.

Last year, the U.S. mobilized a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 nuclear bombers to the peninsula, which drew angry response from the communist state and sharply stoke regional tension.

ejkim@yna.co.kr

(END)

Source :Yonhap News Agency

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