The Pentagon announced Monday that it will suspend all planning of a forthcoming military exercise with South Korea, following a pledge from President Trump last week after his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana White, said the decision is “consistent with President Trump’s commitment” to the North Koreans and made “in concert” with the South Korean government. It applies solely to the August exercise Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, in which about 17,500 U.S. troops gathered with South Korean counterparts last year in an exercise that focused heavily on computer-simulations to defend against a North Korean attack.
Trump said last week after meeting with Kim in Singapore that he would end “war games” carried out with the South Koreans. He called them “very provocative,” and said that he would suspend them while the United States negotiates with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.”
The decision was seen by many critics as a significant concession made by the president, and Trump has repeatedly defended it since by saying that they are expensive and a lot of money will be saved.
But the Trump administration has declined to provide any figures that back that assessment, and it’s likely the U.S. military could carry out other training outside South Korea instead.
The Pentagon did not go beyond suspending the next exercise on Monday, saying that it is still coordinating additional actions and no decisions have been made on future exercises. The issue will be addressed later this week at the Pentagon in a meeting involving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser John R. Bolton, White said.
The suspension of Ulchi-Freedom Guardian will not affect any Pacific exercises outside the Korean Peninsula, the Pentagon said, permitting the U.S. military to continue training with Japan and other partners in the region.
The U.S. military carries out a couple other military exercises annually with the South Korean military, most notably springtime exercises known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve. Foal Eagle involves field maneuvers with about 11,500 U.S. troops and 290,000 South Koreans typically participating. Key Resolve is a command and control exercises that relies on computer simulation, and involves about 12,000 U.S. troops and 10,000 South Koreans.
The U.S. government canceled military exercises with South Korea in the 1990s while attempting to negotiate with North Korea, but they were ultimately reinvigorated when Pyongyang balked at allowing inspectors to look at their nuclear sites.