US, South Korea Pause Military Exercises During Peace Summit

Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 Sailors and Republic of Korea (ROK) sailors listen to a safety brief at the ROK Naval Education and Training Command in Jinhae, ROK, March 13, 2017, as part of exercise Foal Eagle 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Torrey W. Lee)
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 Sailors and Republic of Korea (ROK) sailors listen to a safety brief at the ROK Naval Education and Training Command in Jinhae, ROK, March 13, 2017, as part of exercise Foal Eagle 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Torrey W. Lee)

The U.S. and South Korea briefly stopped training for war Friday during the historic peace summit in Panmunjom between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

South Korean defense officials said the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises were suspended while the two leaders met in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Pentagon officials confirmed that Foal Eagle, consisting of major land, sea and air exercises, and Key Resolve, a computerized command-and-control war game, were paused for the summit but would pick up again next week.

Foal Eagle, often called the world's largest military exercise because it involves more than 200,000 troops, has routinely been denounced by North Korea in the past as practice for an invasion, but the North's usually bombastic news outlets have toned down the rhetoric this year.

The exercises were postponed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in February to avoid political fallout during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. North Korea participated in the games.

In addition to the postponement, Foal Eagle was significantly shortened and scaled back.

The exercise in the past has usually lasted two months, but this year's version began in early April and was scheduled to conclude in the first week of May, well ahead of the proposed Trump-Kim summit in late May or early June.

Previous iterations of Foal Eagle also included U.S. aircraft carriers, but the main naval contingent this year is from the amphibious assault ship Wasp's Amphibious Ready Group.

Last year's Foal Eagle was the largest ever between the two allies, with 290,000 South Korean troops and 15,000 U.S. troops participating.

The two-month Foal Eagle 2017 exercise began in March during a period of high tension on the peninsula immediately after a North Korean ballistic missile launch.

This year, North Korea has pledged to suspend missile launches leading up to the meeting with Trump.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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