South, U.S. to hold drill despite transition in NK

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South, U.S. to hold drill despite transition in NK

The militaries of South Korea and the United States will hold their annual joint exercise next month as scheduled, despite the sensitive changes taking place on the peninsula after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s death, senior foreign affairs and security officials told the JoongAng Ilbo.

This year’s “Key Resolve” exercise, an annual military drill, will take place from Feb. 27 for two weeks, the sources said.

“It’s true that we have weighed whether we should go ahead with the exercise or not after North Korean leader Kim’s death at the end of last year,” a senior official said. “But the North’s wintertime drills are continuing and the military threats still persist, so we’ve decided to go ahead with our military exercise as scheduled.”

Until now, Seoul and Washington had said the schedule was not finalized. Another official said the two countries are currently fine-tuning the details of the exercise including the number of troops taking part and the drill scenario.

“It will likely be the size of the past years,” he said.

Last year, over 200,000 Korean troops and some 12,800 U.S. forces, in addition to the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear-powered supercarrier, participated in the exercise.

Officials did not say whether this year’s drill will cover the new strategic planning directive to be signed between Seoul and Washington in the near future.

Jung Seung-jo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is to visit the U.S. at the end of this month to sign the directive that illustrates the operational tactics of the two countries to jointly respond to North Korean attacks.

The counter-provocation strategy was mapped out after the North’s Yeonpyeong Island shelling in November 2010.

The decision to go ahead with the exercise came amidst the North’s fierce protests about another upcoming joint military drill. The two allies’ marines plan to take part in a massive landing exercise in March, which will be the largest in more than two decades since the “Team Spirit” exercise in 1989.

Pyongyang strongly condemned the plan, calling it a “war game for a northward invasion.” Dismissing the North’s protests, a senior military official said, “our joint military exercises are purely defensive in nature.”

By Jeong Yong-soo, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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