US-South Korea to hold drills despite Pyongyang warnings

Under the US-South Korea security treaty an American general will take command of their combined forces in the event of war, but Seoul has long sought to reverse the position.
Under the US-South Korea security treaty an American general will take command of their combined forces in the event of war, but Seoul has long sought to reverse the position.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - Seoul and Washington are to begin annual joint military exercises on Monday (Aug 5), defying warnings from Pyongyang that the war games will jeopardise nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

The drills come after Pyongyang tested a series of short-range projectiles in recent days, calling one of them a "solemn warning" to Seoul against pursuing the mainly computer-simulated drills with Washington.

"Our joint exercise to verify (Seoul's) capabilities for its envisioned retaking of wartime operational control is being prepared," a ministry official told reporters.

Under the US-South Korea security treaty, an American general will take command of their combined forces in the event of war, but Seoul has long sought to reverse the position.

Analysts say the military activities by both sides could delay talks on the North's weapons programmes - which have seen it subject to multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions - until later this year.

After a year of mutual threats and mounting tensions US President Donald Trump and the North's leader Kim Jong Un held a historic meeting in Singapore last year, when Mr Kim signed a vague pledge to work towards "denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

A second summit in Hanoi in February broke up amid disagreement on sanctions relief and what the North might be willing to give up in return.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim agreed to resume nuclear talks during their impromptu June meeting in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, but that working-level dialogue has yet to begin.

The nuclear-armed North - which attacked its neighbour in 1950, triggering the Korean War - has always been infuriated by military exercises between the US and the South, decrying them as rehearsals for invasion.

THOUSANDS OF US TROOPS

After the Singapore summit, Mr Trump made a shock announcement halting joint drills, adopting Pyongyang's own description of them as "provocative" at an extraordinary, freewheeling press conference.

War games known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) and scheduled for August last year were subsequently suspended.

And the allies' biggest annual drills, Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, which took place every spring and involved tens of thousands of troops, were replaced with a shorter "Dong Maeng" or "Alliance" exercise in March.

 
 
 

The August drills were scaled down earlier this year, Yonhap news agency reported, and have not been named, with an official from Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) telling AFP that they "cannot comment any further" on their designation.

South Korean media have dubbed the command post exercise "19-2 Dong Maeng", indicating the second Dong Maeng exercise of 2019.

Pyongyang warned last week that further nuclear talks could be derailed if Seoul and Washington push ahead with the manoeuvres.

And last Friday North Korea carried out its third weapons test in the space of eight days, firing what it called a new "large calibre multiple launch guided rocket system".

Seoul's presidential office said it was highly likely to be "a new type of short-range ballistic missile".

Mr Trump brushed off the North's tests, saying Mr Kim will not want to "disappoint" him because he has "far too much to lose".

"He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!" the US President said.

There are 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea to protect it against its neighbour, many of them based south of Seoul at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek - Washington's biggest overseas military facility.