South Korea and the United States are scheduled to kick off their combined military exercise in earnest next week, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Saturday, despite North Korea's strong complaints against it.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (right) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper clasp hands ahead of their talks at the defense ministry in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
The computer-based "Combined Command Post Training" will be conducted for 10 days starting Sunday, which aims to better prepare the allies for the transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington to Seoul and to enhance their strong military readiness, the JCS said.
The planned exercise was preceded by their four-day "crisis management staff training" that began Monday, which was a kind of lead-up, according to military sources. Neither South Korea nor the U.S. officially announced their implementation of the preliminary session.
The exercise is in replacement of the summertime Ulchi Freedom Guardian as part of a reorganization of major exercises aimed at supporting peace efforts with North Korea.
Different from previous cases, however, the allies did not name the planned training. It was widely supposed to be named "19-2 Dong Maeng," following a similar one launched in March under the name of the Dong Maeng exercise, which means alliance in English.
It is apparently in consideration of North Korea, which has repeatedly warned against joint maneuvers, calling them a rehearsal for invasion.
Last month, Pyongyang said the push for the 19-2 Dong Maeng exercise would negatively affect its efforts for working-level nuclear talks with Washington.
Over the past three weeks, the communist country conducted major weapons tests five times, including the firing of two short-range projectiles into the East Sea earlier in the day. According to U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his displeasure with the exercise in his letter sent to Trump this week.
In order to test Seoul's initial operational capability (IOC) for the OPCON transfer, the August exercise is to be carried out under the envisioned platform of the future joint command, where a South Korean general will command the Combined Forces Command (CFC), with an American general taking the role of vice commander, according to the sources.
Currently, U.S. Gen. Robert Abrams leads the CFC, as well as U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command.
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. (Yonhap)