US and South Korea to scrap major military exercises in spring

The annual large-scale joint military exercises, which have frequently infuriated North Korea, will be replaced with smaller drills. The scale-backs come on the heels of Donald Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un.

The United States and South Korea announced Sunday that they will no longer carry out their large-scale springtime military exercises in an effort to improve diplomatic ties with North Korea. 

The Pentagon said in a statement that defense chiefs from the two countries had decided to end the drills, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, in favor of smaller training programs. 

The new activities will involve "adjusted outside maneuver trainings and united command exercises to continue firm military readiness," Seoul's defense ministry said.

The Foal Eagle exercise is the largest of the annual joint exercises carried out by US and South Korean forces. In the past, it has involved 200,000 South Korean troops and nearly 30,000 US soldiers.

The spring exercises have frequently been condemned by North Korea, which views them as preparations for invasion.

News of the scale-down came after US President Donald Trump's high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.

The Foal Eagle military exercise involves thousands of ground, air, naval and special operations troops

Trump: Exercises are 'very, very expensive'

Although the meeting between Trump and Kim ended without a formal agreement on denuclearization, the two sides suggested that they would continue talks.

The US has scaled back or discontinued several joint military drills with South Korea since Trump's first summit with Kim last year in Singapore.

Trump has frequently complained about the costs of the exercises, telling reporters this week that the annual drills were "very, very expensive."

"I was telling the generals, I said: Look, you know, exercising is fun and it's nice and they play the war games. And I'm not saying it's not necessary, because at some levels it is, but at other levels it's not," Trump said at the end of the summit in Hanoi.

One exercise that was suspended last year, dubbed Freedom Guardian, would have cost $14 million (€12.3 million), according to estimates from the Pentagon. The US military's annual budget is $700 billion.

The US president has, however, ruled out withdrawing any of the 28,500 US forces that are stationed in South Korea.

Any reduction of US troops would likely be met with strong criticism from the US Congress and Japan, whose government is wary of nuclear-armed North Korea's intentions in the region.

South Korea and US forces hold live-fire drill

Border control

South Korean Army soldiers rappel down during a South Korea-U.S. joint military live-fire drill at Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, South Korea, near the border with North Korea.

South Korea and US forces hold live-fire drill

Dummy targets

In Pocheon, 65 kilometers northeast of Seoul, South Korea’s self-propelled guns, as well as multiple rocket launchers, fired off dozens of volleys toward mock targets.

South Korea and US forces hold live-fire drill

Stepping up preparation

South Korean K1A2 tanks fire live rounds at a training field near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. Some 100 artillery pieces, 90 armoured vehicles and 50 aircraft, as well as 2,000 South Korean and US troops, the defence ministry said.

South Korea and US forces hold live-fire drill

Missile defense

The US has begun deploying parts of the controversial Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system at its site in South Korea. THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy short and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight. The US and South Korea are deploying the missile system in response to the ongoing development of North Korea's ballistic missile program.

South Korea and US forces hold live-fire drill

Saber-rattling in North Korea

On the other side of the border in North Korea, leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw the country's largest-ever firing drill, which saw more than 300 large-calibre self-propelled guns firing simultaneously and torpedo attacks by submarines, state-run KCNA agency said.

South Korea and US forces hold live-fire drill

Anniversary 'celebrations'

The drill marked the 85th anniversary of the founding of the North Korea's armed forces, and heightened international worries that it may be preparing another nuclear test.

rs,nm/bw (AFP, Reuters)

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