North Korea Angered over New US Training Event in South Korea

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon lands on the runway after concluding a defensive counter air mission during Exercise MAX THUNDER 17 at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, April 18, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Carlos Jimenez)
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon lands on the runway after concluding a defensive counter air mission during Exercise MAX THUNDER 17 at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, April 18, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Carlos Jimenez)

Aircrews and aircraft from the U.S., Republic of Korea (RoK) and Australia are participating in a new exercise on the Korean Peninsula in an effort to maintain military readiness with Pacific partners.

Media outlets earlier this week said the event is meant to replace the massive Max Thunder annual joint air training exercise, which was suspended last year. Officials with Pacific Air Force's 7th Air Force at Osan Air Base, South Korea, are calling the exercise a "Combined Flying Training Event."

"This event enhances RoK, U.S. and Australian Air Forces' interoperability and tactical skills," said Lt. Col. Brandon Lingle, a 7th Air Force spokesman, in an email Wednesday. "It is part of the ROK-U.S. alliance's routine, annual training program to maintain military readiness. U.S. Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors are involved in the training that runs from April 22 through May 2."

South Korean officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Stars and Stripes on Monday that dozens of warplanes, including fighter jets, are participating in the combined flying exercise.

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While additional details of the scaled-down exercise remain scarce, the event has angered neighboring North Korea, which issued a warning early Thursday.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, North Korea issued a statement via the Korean Central News Agency urging South Korea and the U.S. to "behave with discretion" and warning they could provoke a military response. It marked the first public rebuke from North Korea to South Korea after the two countries formally resumed talks last year.

The Pentagon suspended or altered larger-scale summer exercises with South Korea, most notably Ulchi Freedom Guardian, at the Trump administration's request following the president's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last June.

Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis later announced that Foal Eagle, a combined ground, air, naval and special operations field exercise, was "being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy."

Mattis reiterated last August what the Defense Department had announced in June following the Singapore Summit: The U.S. had suspended larger exercises -- what President Donald Trump characterized as "war games" -- but smaller training efforts with South Korean counterparts would remain on the calendar.

"There are ongoing exercises all the time on the [Korean] peninsula," Mattis said at the time, adding that smaller exercises were not being publicized to avoid misinterpretation by North Korea, which might view them as a "break in faith" following the June negotiations.

News of the joint training exercise comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday welcomed Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok to discuss their national interests.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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