By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is not showing any signs of preparation to stage a major provocation at least for now, the chief of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday.
"I say that we are not seeing any indicators that suggest that there would be a major provocation. But that's today. That could change next week," Gen. Robert Abrams said when asked if North Korea may stage a military provocation before or after the Jan. 20 inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.
Many experts believe Pyongyang may stage provocations, partly to draw the new U.S. administration's attention to the North.
Abrams said he had no way of knowing what would happen in the future but expressed hope the North would continue to keep tensions low as to give diplomacy a chance.
"I would hope, hope not being a method, but I hope that really the current state of detente and this reduction in tensions ... I hope that that continues, so that we can maintain that space, ultimately, for some sort of diplomatic outreach," he told the online meeting.
The USFK commander noted North Korea continues to enhance its asymmetric capabilities particularly in "SOF -- Special Operations Forces -- cyber and ballistic missiles."
Still, he said the combined forces of South Korea and the United States stand fully ready and capable to deter any North Korean aggression, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that he said may have undermined the defense posture of many other countries.
"The ongoing pandemic has not dampened our combined defense posture," said the U.S. general, adding the combined forces have successfully conducted joint military exercises with "zero positive case" of COVID-19.
"It's got to be capable and the way we develop that capability is through tough, realistic and rigorous training, including live fire training to ensure that our forces are absolutely ready," he said of the latest joint exercise conducted "last fall."
The USFK chief noted a "handful" of joint exercises may have been either postponed or canceled over the past three years, partly amid denuclearization talks with the North and the COVID-19 pandemic but insisted they have never been "stopped."
"Most militaries have not demonstrated the will or the capacity to train during the pandemic. However, not here in Korea because your ROK and U.S. military leaders firmly believe in maintaining that sharp edge, so that we can ensure that our force is ready, credible, and it certainly prevents any potential adversaries from perceiving weakness in our readiness," Abrams said.
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