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Discussions still under way on upcoming S. Korea-U.S. combined exercise: defense ministry

Defense 13:46 February 25, 2021

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have yet to finalize the schedule and other details of a planned combined springtime military exercise, the defense ministry said Thursday.

The joint computer-simulated command post training is expected to kick off in around the second week of March for about 10 days. But exactly when and how the exercise will be staged has not yet been announced.

"The date, content and other details of the combined exercise to be held in the first half of the year are not yet finalized," ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan told a regular press briefing.

"South Korea and the U.S. have been closely discussing how to conduct it while fully considering COVID-19 and other circumstances," he added.

Seoul and Washington usually carry out major combined exercises twice a year, in spring and summer, along with smaller-scale drills throughout the year.

But they "indefinitely" postponed the springtime program in 2020 over the pandemic, and the summertime exercise was held in a scaled-back manner in August.

On Wednesday, Suh Hoon, South Korea's national security adviser, told lawmakers that the upcoming drill would be held in an adjusted manner, involving a reduced number of troops and without outdoor drills amid the virus situation.

This photo provided by the defense ministry on Feb. 9, 2021, shows the South Korean and the U.S. marine corps' joint landing exercise held in April 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korea seeks to carry out a Full Operational Capability (FOC) test during the upcoming combined exercise, a crucial step for its envisioned retaking of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from Washington.

The test was supposed to be held last year, but the two sides were not able to do so due to the COVID-19 situation.

But the U.S. appears to want to focus on checking their combined readiness posture during the test, rather than the FOC program, according to sources.

A Pentagon official said in a statement to Yonhap News Agency that such trainings are "intended to maintain alliance readiness to ensure we are ready to 'fight tonight.' Any decision on the scope, scale, and timing of exercises will be made bilaterally with these factors in mind."

The upcoming combined exercise has drawn attention amid concern that North Korea could use it as a pretext for provocations in the early months of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

Pyongyang has long denounced such drills as a rehearsal for invasion, though Seoul and Washington have stressed that they are regular ones and defensive in nature.

This photo, provided by the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), shows USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams getting a COVID-19 vaccine at Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, on Dec. 29, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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