US scaling back annual military drills with South Korea: reports

US scaling back annual military drills with South Korea: reports
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The Pentagon is preparing to scale back its annual military drills with South Korea amid a push for a potential deal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, according to multiple reports.

The large-scale exercises are being truncated as part of the White House’s efforts to deescalate tensions with North Korea, NBC News reported Friday, citing two defense officials. 

The Wall Street Journal also reported that smaller, more focused military training will replace the larger-scale exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

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“The U.S. has identified ways to mitigate potential readiness concerns by looking at required mission tasks versus having to conduct large-scale exercises,” one official told NBC News.

While the exercises are often used to deter the North and maintain troop readiness between the U.S. and its partners in South Korea, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE has long bemoaned the drills as too expensive.

Officials said that the decision to roll back the drills has been under consideration for some time, though the news comes less than two days after Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a second nuclear summit in Hanoi.

The meeting ended abruptly with no agreement, though Trump said the annual military drills were “very, very expensive” and that South Korea should pitch in more.

Trump announced after the first nuclear summit with North Korea last June in Singapore that large-scale joint military exercises would be suspended, though smaller exercises and training sessions have continued.

Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, recently testified that North Korea has doubled down on military drills of its own and that it was preparing to execute its annual winter military drills with 1 million troops.

The U.S.-South Korea drills typically begin in March, with Key Resolve taking place first for two weeks and overlapping with Foal Eagle, which is about a month long. Thousands of troops and ground, air and naval forces from a litany of countries are involved.

The exercises allow military planners to build relationships with international counterparts and adjust flaws in war plans.

“In terms of deterrence with North Korea, this is one of the ways we demonstrate that we are hanging together with our allies. One of North Korea’s major objectives is splitting the alliance and getting the U.S. off the peninsula, and canceling the exercises is one stop in that direction,” Bruce Bennett, a senior defense researcher at the Rand Corp., told NBC News. 

Military officials reportedly consider March the most likely time for the North to invade South Korea as its troops have just completed their own military drills and the ground is still hard enough for tanks to drive over rice fields.