Combined Forces Command announces start of joint drillsThe South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command yesterday announced its plans for the annual joint military drills, which begin on Feb. 24 between the allies, despite fierce protests from Pyongyang.
But concerns are growing in South Korea that the North could cancel the upcoming reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, scheduled to take place between Feb. 20 and 25 at Mount Kumgang resort, during the military exercises.
U.S. Forces Korea released a statement on behalf of the command yesterday on its website announcing the two upcoming drills, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.
Key Resolve is scheduled from Feb. 24 to March 6, it said, while Foal Eagle will last from Feb. 24 to April 18.
“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 M. Scaparrotti, the Combined Forces Command commander, said in the statement.
“The scenarios are realistic, enabling us to train on our essential tasks and respond to any crisis which may arise.”
The command said about 5,200 U.S. forces will participate in Key Resolve, including 1,100 from abroad. The computer-assisted simulation exercise is designed to prepare for the safe deployment of U.S. forces from the United States and bases overseas to the Korean Peninsula in the case of war.
Foal Eagle will consist of field training exercises. The command said approximately 7,500 U.S. forces will participate in the drills, including 5,100 from its bases overseas.
The command, which maintains the “nonprovocative nature” of the drills, said it has informed North Korea of its schedule.
South Korea has also maintained that the exercises are purely for self-defense, not a “Northbound war practice” like North Korea alleges.
Kim Min-seok, spokesman of South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, said that although the exercises are taking place during the upcoming family reunions, they are completely separate issues.
“Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle are important exercises for the defense of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said. “North Korea is also aware of the nature of these exercises as annual self-defense drills. So it is not right to link this to the matter of family reunions.”
The spokesman added that this year’s drills would not deploy strategic bombers, unlike previous exercises in 2013, which saw the mobilization of a B-52 jet-powered strategic bomber in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test.
“Last year, some U.S. forces were reinforced due to the nuclear threats of North Korea,” Kim said. “But the situation is completely different from that of last year, so we will carry out Key Resolve and Foal Eagle as originally planned.”
Kim Eui-do, the spokesman of the Ministry of Unification, which is in charge of the family reunions, affirmed at a daily briefing yesterday that the much-anticipated event will take place as scheduled.
North Korea, however, has continued to express distrust over the two allies’ explanations.
In January, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the regime, said the drills “are war practice targeting Pyongyang.”
“It is absurd to say their purpose is only self-defense,” it added.
BY KIM HEE-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]