Pentagon says Korean war games still set to go despite possible summit

Pentagon says Korean war games still set to go despite possible summit

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, participate in bilateral Warrior Strike drills in South Korea on Dec. 13, 2017 (Photo by Patrick Eakin/Army)

WASHINGTON — Plans for the annual U.S.-South Korean War games remain a go, even as the possibilities of a summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un swirl about.

In fact, the military exercises may occur as Kim holds another  summit — the one with South Korean President Moon Jae-in now planned for late April.

“Nothing has changed,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman. The Pentagon will “continue to support the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea. Clearly it is having an impact.”

Washington previously agreed to a request from Seoul to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises — which usually begin in late February or early March — until after the Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Games in the South. The Pentagon agreed to “deconflict with the Olympics” in part to focus on the security for the games, Pentagon officials repeatedly said.

Both Key Resolve and Foal Eagle have involved up to 300,000 troops from the U.S. and South Korea in past years.

Pentagon officials from Defense Secretary James Mattis on down have said the drills would go ahead after the Paralympics end on March 18. Logan said an announcement of the time frame and scope of the exercises will occur sometime after that.

Other than underscoring plans to hold the military exercises, the Pentagon was mum regarding the possible Trump-Kim meeting — which would be the first between an American president and the leader of a nation technically still at war with the United States.

An armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, ending hostilities but not the state of war. At the time, there were 932,964 United Nations forces in Korea — including 590,911 from South Korea and 302,483 from the United States.

Today there are roughly 28,500 U.S. military personnel in South Korea. However, that number will fluctuate during the exercises, the Pentagon said.

The U.S. recently opened a new military facility in South Korea — Camp Humphreys, about 50 miles south of Seoul. Previously, U.S. forces in South Korea were scattered across 174 bases including some within range of Pyongyang’s heavy artillery.

North Korea has an estimated 1.2 million troops.

Chung Eui-Yong, South Korea’s national security adviser who met with Kim, said he and others in their delegation were surprised that the North Korean leader did not make  stopping the war games a pre-condition to meeting Trump or taking steps to calm tensions on the peninsula.

Yong, who announced the Trump-Kim possible summit Thursday after meeting with Trump at the White House, said it would take place “by May”

Also on Thursday, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said the joint South Korea-U.S. military drills will be held on a scale “consistent” with the previous ones.

In an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday, Swift also noted that there was “no indication” from the South Korean military to change the scope of the upcoming Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises.

“All of my discussions have been in the context of the consistency of the pending exercises. They would be the same size, scope and scale as previous exercises,” Swift told the newspaper.

“I haven’t seen any diminishment in the support and enthusiasm for the continued exercises. I can assure you that our planning is consistent,” he said. “The same number of forces are training to participate as we have expected, based on the joint planning today as there was in the past.”

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