US and South Korean officials confirmed Tuesday the suspension of scheduled joint military drills, making good on a pledge by President Donald Trump during his summit with North Korea’s leader.
Seoul, which has tens of thousands of US troops on its soil to help protect it from its hostile northern neighbour, said the suspension would affect the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August.
“South Korea and the US plan to continue discussions for further measures,” the South’s defence ministry said in a statement, adding that “no decisions have been reached for other ensuing drills.”
Some 17,500 US military personnel were due to take part in the Freedom Guardian drills.
“We are still coordinating additional actions. No decisions on subsequent war games have been made,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in confirming the suspension.
“There is no impact on Pacific exercises outside of the Korean Peninsula.”
White said US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton would meet later this week at the Pentagon to discuss the issue.
Last week, Trump made the surprise announcement that the US would halt “war games” with its South Korean security ally — without making clear when the freeze would begin.
The US leader raised eyebrows by describing the exercises as “provocative” — a term used by the North.
US and South Korean forces have been training together for years, and routinely rehearse everything from beach landings to an invasion from the North, or even “decapitation” strikes targeting the North Korean regime.
Pyongyang typically reacts furiously. Following drills last year, the North fired ballistic missiles over Japan, triggering global alarm.