SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A top US commander in South Korea on Wednesday (June 27) dismissed concerns that the decision to suspend an upcoming large-scale joint exercise would lead to the end of training exercises that the allies' forces have conducted regularly.
During his speech at South Korea's Ministry of National Defence, USFK Commander General Vincent Brooks said halting the scheduled Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise would serve to build trust with North Korea by reducing "unnecessary irritation."
The general also noted that there would be "flexibility" in the way the exercise will be conducted moving forward, particularly when it comes to the timing, scope, scale and communication volume of the joint exercise.
"I will eliminate the doubt and concerns about all military training going away. I don't have any such instruction coming my way," Brooks said during his keynote speech at the Korea-US alliance forum with the Korean-American Club in Seoul.
"So I don't anticipate that this is an end of all exercises and training as we know it, but rather these visible exercises that are right up front that may cause unnecessary irritation at a time when the need for trust building is so important."
His remark came amid speculation in Seoul and Washington that the allies' regular training drills - scheduled to follow the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise - could be cancelled as a trust-building measure with North Korea.
Following the suspension of the UFG slated for August, the South Korean and US militaries announced last week that they would delay a series of joint exercises between the two countries. The Korea Marine Exercise Programme was going to take place within the next three months.
When asked about the prospect of US military presence in South Korea, Brooks dismissed possibilities that the USFK would be withdrawn immediately because the issue is not the prime interest of the two countries' political leaders.
"We shouldn't have any worry or doubt about the departure of US forces. President Trump said he is not interested in doing that right now. President Moon said he is not interested in doing that right now."
The commander also highlighted that it was not in the interests of the two countries' legislative branches, which voiced concern over Trump's criticism of maintaining a large military presence overseas, including South Korea.
When asked whether the US is committed to defending South Korea against North Korea's aggression, Brooks said that the US is willing to shed blood, but South Korea should recognise its cost.
"There should be no doubt that the US is willing if necessary to shed blood. We have it happening even today in the world. But that should also be very clear that the US knows the cost of shedding blood. It is not just a human toll, it is a cost on society, a cost on infrastructure."
Stressing that the South Korea-US alliance will last "indefinitely," the USKF commander called for the audience to "live the alliance" -- instead of worrying about the fate of the 65-year-old alliance that has gone through turbulent times.
He said, "I prefer to live every day I have because there is no guarantee how it is going to last, not my life not my alliance. So right now, how about let's just live the alliance. That is what we should be doing every single day."