South Korea scraps annual government war drill as talks with North go on

South Korean self-propelled howitzers participate in a defense exercise at the Mugeon-ri drill field near the DMZ, on June 19, 2018.
South Korean self-propelled howitzers participate in a defense exercise at the Mugeon-ri drill field near the DMZ, on June 19, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS, XINHUA) - South Korea said on Tuesday (July 10) it has decided to scrap an annual government mobilisation drill this year as part of a suspended joint exercise with the United States, but will carry out its own drills to maintain readiness.

The Ulchi drill, which aims at examining the country's war preparedness, usually takes place every August in tandem with the joint Freedom Guardian military exercise with the United States.

The cancellation of this year’s Ulchi drill came after Seoul and Washington announced on June 19 the halt of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint annual war games, slated for August.

US President Donald Trump had pledged to end any "provocative" war games with South Korea following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

North Korea has denounced the joint annual South Korea-US war games as a dress rehearsal for northward invasion.

Seoul's presidential office has said that the suspension of the combined war games could facilitate ongoing nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States.

The Ulchi drill is South Korea’s biggest annual training to check its warfare preparedness and crisis management, mobilising some 480,000 officials from government offices and public institutions.

It was first conducted in 1968 in the name of Taeguk after a raid of North Korea commandos on South Korea’s presidential Blue House in the same year, and the name was changed into Ulchi the following year.

South Korea said on Tuesday that it would develop a new drill model by incorporating Ulchi and the existing Taeguk command post exercises, which would be aimed at fighting militancy and large-scale natural disasters, the ministers said. The combined drill would be tentatively named the Ulchi Taegeuk.

The Ulchi Taegeuk combined drill would involve the government, the military and the private sector to protect the country from outside armed attack, terrorism and large-scale disasters. The drill  would be launched in October when the Hoguk field training drill takes place, the ministers said.

"Our military will carry out planned standalone drills this year and decide on joint exercises through close consultations with the United States," said Defence Minister Song Young-moo.