S. Korea, U.S. to wrap up combined exercise
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States were to wrap up their weekslong combined exercise on Tuesday as scheduled, military officers said.
The completion of the exercise is drawing special attention as to whether it will lead to Pyongyang halting missile launches and help spur the resumption of stalled denuclearization dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang, just as its leader Kim Jong-un pledged to U.S. President Donald Trump.
According to the officers, the 10-day "Combined Command Post Training," which was preceded by their four-day "crisis management staff training" that ended on Aug. 8., was to be concluded later in the day.
"We have been carrying out the training normally and plan to wrap it up as scheduled on Tuesday," a military officer said.
This year's exercise, which replaced their summertime Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, involved computer simulations without the actual mobilization of troops or military equipment, which is part of the allies' reorganization of major exercises aimed at supporting peace efforts with North Korea.
But the training was based upon similar scenarios to previous ones and was composed of two parts just as the allies have done before: defending the country against invasion by North Korea and launching a counterattack in response.
"The focus of the exercise was to verify whether Seoul is on course to meet the conditions required for its retaking of operational control over its forces from Washington during wartime," a defense ministry official said, adding that the results of the initial operational capability (IOC) test will be discussed later this year.
For that test, the exercise has been carried out under the envisioned platform of the future joint command, where a South Korean general commands the Combined Forces Command (CFC), with an American general taking the role of vice commander, according to the sources.
The two sides have agreed on a "conditions-based" OPCON transition. The conditions are the South's capability to lead the allies' combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to the North's nuclear and missile threats and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region.
Apparently in consideration of North Korea, Seoul and Washington have maintained low-key stances regarding the exercise this time. Different from previous cases, they did not name the training, though it was supposed to be labeled "19-2 Dong Maeng," following a similar one launched in March under the name of the Dong Maeng exercise. Dong Maeng means alliance in English.
Well before the allies made the schedule official, however, North Korea issued strong warnings against it, while repeating claims that such a joint maneuver is nothing but a rehearsal for invasion into the North.
Since July 25, the communist country has carried out major weapons tests six times involving newly developed short-range ballistic missiles, with the latest one taking place on Friday. It also has intensified its verbal condemnation against Seoul, threatening to end inter-Korean dialogue.
In the midst of conducting such military actions earlier this month, the North Korean leader sent a letter to Trump and expressed a "small apology for testing the short-range missiles," Trump tweeted, adding that Kim told him that such saber-rattling would stop when the joint exercise ends.
Kim also expressed his will to resume talks with the U.S. on its nuclear programs "as soon as" the exercise is over, according to the U.S. president.
The negotiations on the North's nuclear weapons program have been stalled since the no-deal Hanoi summit in February. During their surprise meeting in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom at the end of June, Trump and Kim agreed to resume nuclear talks, and the U.S. has suggested working-level dialogue.
As a possible sign of the resumption, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is set to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday for a three-day visit following a two-day trip to Japan, according to the State Department.
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