U.S., South Korea turning attention to joint exercises, reports say

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Dec. 31 (UPI) — The United States and South Korea discussed plans for potential military exercises, but the two sides are concerned about the impact of drills on North Korea, according to reports.

The United States and South Korea have staged exercises at least twice a year before the coronavirus pandemic, in March and August. In 2020, training for the Combined Forces Command was postponed and only a scaled-down drill took place in late August, News 1 reported Thursday.

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The COVID-19 pandemic also has delayed bilateral plans for verifying full operational capabilities, or FOC, of South Korea’s military, the first step toward transitioning wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea, also known as OPCON.

South Korea is seeking the completion of the transition before May 2022, the end of President Moon Jae-in’s term, but U.S. Forces Korea officials have suggested more time is needed.

The U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command is currently the war-fighting mission control on the peninsula. It has more than 600,000 active duty soldiers of both countries under its command. The United States has 28,500 troops in Korea.

On Thursday, U.S. and South Korean military officials also exchanged views on training with ways that would not provoke North Korea, South Korean news network MBN reported. Pyongyang has claimed the joint exercises are a preparation for an invasion.

The meeting of the Combined Forces Command, USFK, the United Nations Command, and the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, took place in the same day COVID-19 vaccines were distributed to South Korean workers on U.S. military bases and South Korean KATUSA soldiers posted to U.S. army bases.

COVID-19 vaccines for U.S. troops in Korea began earlier this week. A second delivery of vaccines is expected soon, and U.S. and South Korean militaries are discussing the continued distribution of the vaccines to service members of both nationalities, according to reports.