U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says South Korea and the United States will curtail a joint military exercise set for next spring to facilitate smooth negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on 21 November 2018, Mattis said the 'Foal Eagle' exercise will be "reduced in scope" and "reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy."
The latest adjustment will be the fifth joint exercise to be scaled back, as a concession to the Kim Jong-un regime, following the regime's pledge to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The leaders of North Korea and the U.S. agreed at their Singapore summit in June 2018 to work toward the "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. After that summit, U.S. President Donald Trump said "provocative" and "expensive" war games with South Korea would be stopped during negotiations with the North. Foal Eagle is a major joint exercise that's held every spring on the Korean Peninsula, and is one of three large-scale drills, the others being Ulchi Freedom Guardian and Key Resolve. North Korea has long regarded the exercises as rehearsals for an invasion, despite assurances from Seoul and Washington that they're purely defensive in nature.
Seoul and Washington completed the Foal Eagle exercise on 30 April 2017. The 2-month-long annual joint military drill involved some 300,000 South Korean soldiers and 10,000 US troops. Though it is purely defensive in nature, tension mounts during the combined training as Pyongyang perceives it as a preparation for an invasion. The U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson meanwhile, is still taking part in a different joint exercise with the Korean navy that were expected to end in a few days. The Nimitz-class supercarrier that took part in drills in March 2017 and had left the area, but was called back, seemingly in response to North Korean provocations.
South Korean defense officials said 18 February 2016 the upcoming annual military drill with the United States would be the largest ever, a sign of growing tensions with North Korea over its recent tests of nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs. Defense Minister Han Min-koo said that about 15,000 U.S. troops would take part in the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises when they begin in March 2016, which was twice the number from last year. Yonhap news agency said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John C. Stennis would take part in the annual drills, which Pyongyang always claims are preparation for a northward invasion.
Some 290,000 South Korean troops would also take part in the drills, and both allies have stressed that the joint exercises are purely defensive in nature. A military official says that the drills are aimed at giving a strong warning to Pyongyang showing that both Seoul and Washington are capable of neutralizing the communist state at any given time.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may have ordered the regime's military and intelligence agency to intensify preparations for terror attacks on South Korea. Citing information from South Korea's National Intelligence Service, the ruling Saenuri Party said North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau, responsible for cyberwarfare and intelligence operations in foreign countries, is preparing to carry out cyberattacks, attacks using poison or kidnappings of South Korean citizens. The report was made during an emergency security meeting between the government and ruling party.
South Korea and the United States began annual military exercises 24 February 2014 over the objection of North Korea, which has claimed they are rehearsals for an invasion. The drills - called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle - kicked off despite Pyongyang's repeated calls for their cancelation at the threat of scrapping family reunions the North later agreed to carry out. Key Resolve lasts just over a week and is largely computer-simulated, while the eight-week Foal Eagle drill involves air, ground and naval field training.
Foal Eagle counter-infiltration exercises are large combined annual field training exercises for U.S. and ROK forces. FOAL EAGLE is the Combined Forces' Command's primary FTX. It's primary training audience is tactical units and functions. It is a multifaceted Joint and Combined Exercise that trains in all aspects of CFC's mission: Rear Battle Area Protection, RSOI, Special Operations, and conventional Multi-Service Force -on-Force. Selected CONUS based U.S. units with OPLAN taskings are brought to Korea to participate in this exercise. The Foal Eagle Exercise is an annual ROK-US combined field maneuver conducted since 1961. Its purposes are to demonstrate ROK-US military resolve to deter war on the Korean peninsula and to improve the combined and joint operational posture.
FOAL EAGLE is a purely defensive exercise which tests the ability of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to defend itself, assisted by U.S. armed forces. It is primarily a rear-area exercise in which troops defend against invading forces, hostile special forces and commando attacks, or sabotage operations on critical rear-area targets.
Foal Eagle is the first in the annual series of Warfighter, Commanders in Chief, command post exercises (CPX) in Korea. This exercise simulates the increase in tensions on the peninsula prior to an opening of hostilities. It targets the coordination between the United States, Republic of Korea forces and civilian authorities for noncombatant evacuation. The exercise occurs annually in late October and is 25 days in length.
In 2001, Foal Eagle combined with exercise Reception, Staging, Onward movement, and Integration (RSOI). Prior to 2001, RSOI and FE were conducted separately, and while both exercises independently met training objectives, analysis indicated linking the two could provide better opportunity to train all Combined Forces Command (CFC) echelons. Linking the two provided opportunity for leader mentoring at all levels, reduced operational tempo for CFC forces and cost savings, according to exercise planners.
On 20 March 2018, South Korea's military authorities released the schedules of the upcoming Seoul-Washington joint military drills. Key Resolve, a computerized simulation exercise, will be held for two weeks starting mid-April and Foal Eagle, for four weeks starting April 1st. In the case of Foal Eagle, the duration this year is half that of last year's. But despite that, Seoul's defense ministry had stressed the drills will be at a similar level to those of previous years.
But this year's Foal Eagle excluded a couple of key drills that were previously included. One of them is Freedom Banner, a Navy and Marine Corps logistical deployment exercise. The exercise is to be held as normal in May. But for this year, the drill has been separated from Foal Eagle -- unlike the past few years where it was conducted as part of the Foal Eagle drills.
The training is to be conducted solely by the U.S. side, so South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff says this year's Foal Eagle does not include Freedom Banner. A similar case is Max Thunder, an annual air exercise conducted by Seoul and Washington, that's held for two weeks in mid-May. It's been regarded as part of the annual joint drills for the past two years, but for this year, it has also been separated.
If the exercises -- Freedom Banner and Max Thunder -- were included in this year's annual drills, then the Foal Eagle would've lasted for almost two months. But Seoul's military authorities chose not to name them as part of Seoul-Washington joint military drills which, many say, is not to cause friction in the run-up to inter-Korean talks and Washington-Pyongyang talks in the next two months.
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