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Mattis: US, South Korea to decide if huge joint military drill held for 20 years will be canceled

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford attend a South Korean honor guard ceremony hosted by their South Korean counterparts Minister Song Young-moo and Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo during a visit to Seoul, South Korea. (US Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)
November 01, 2018

The United States and South Korea are holding discussions to determine whether they will cancel a major joint exercise next year.

During talks on Wednesday between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, the two jointly announced that they would decide the exercise’s fate within a month, by Dec. 1, the Washington Examiner reported.

Each year, the two nations hold a massive military training exercise called Foal Eagle, which is one of the largest military exercises in the world. It has been held annually since 1997.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries “will make the final decision on any major exercises in the next year before the first of December,” Jeong said.

Some people worry that canceling the exercise isn’t a good move, as it may compromise war readiness of the militaries. However, Mattis said he isn’t concerned about that risk.

“We are not right now concerned with a loss of combat capability. Clearly, as we go forward, we’ll have to make adaptations to ensure we don’t lose that capability,” Mattis said.

“This is not a total suspension of all collaboration and military exercises,” he added. “Certainly, large ones were put on hold, suspended temporarily in order to give the diplomats the best possible effort because we were making a good-faith effort on the military side.”

Two weeks ago, Mattis and Jeong decided to cancel Exercise Vigilant Ace, a joint exercise that was to be held in December, according to a CNN report.

“Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo decided to suspend Exercise Vigilant Ace to give the diplomatic process every opportunity to continue,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said.

In August, President Donald Trump had tweeted, “There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games.”

“Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before,” he added.

The President’s remarks generated some controversy over their contradiction to remarks made by Mattis just one day earlier, saying exercises with South Korea would not be canceled.

“We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises. We will work very closely, as I said, with the secretary of State and what he needs done,” Mattis had said at the time, according to CNBC.

President Trump already ordered the cancellation of three individual military exercises as a matter of cutting costs, but aspired to cancel joint exercises with South Korea as a show of good faith to North Korea amid denuclearization talks.

Regardless of the cancellation, approximately 28,500 U.S. troops remain stationed in South Korea.