US-South Korea Military Exercise a Go Despite North's Threats, 4-Star Says

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, assigned to 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, wait for the command to advance after rushing out of a Republic of Korea Marine amphibious assault vehicle March 31, 2014, during Ssang Yong 2014 at Dokseok-ri beach in Pohang, Republic of Korea. Ssang Yong exercise is the combined capability of ROK and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II)
Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, assigned to 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, wait for the command to advance after rushing out of a Republic of Korea Marine amphibious assault vehicle March 31, 2014, during Ssang Yong 2014 at Dokseok-ri beach in Pohang, Republic of Korea. Ssang Yong exercise is the combined capability of ROK and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps forces. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II)

American troops will carry out a military exercise along with South Korean forces in August, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Thursday, even as the North threatens to restart its nuclear and missile tests.

Adm. Phil Davidson, who oversees all U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific region, said North Korea has no reason to gripe about military exercises on the southern peninsula. He confirmed that one will take place as planned next month.

"I can tell you my orders are to execute that exercise in August," Davidson said during the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. "And I'll say this about North Korean rhetoric: They have neither lowered nor raised their own exercise profile from before this negotiation ... so they have little to complain about."

At issue is the upcoming Exercise Dong Maeng, which is Korean for "alliance." The North Korean Foreign Ministry issued statements this week saying that, if the military exercise happens, it will affect efforts to resume dialogue with the U.S., The New York Times reported.

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The threats come just weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's historic meeting at the Korean demilitarized zone at the end of June. Trump, who's the first sitting president to enter North Korea, said teams from both countries would begin working toward denuclearization talks.

North Korea's statements appear to indicate that process could be at risk if Dong Maeng occurs.

The last iteration of the military exercise was held in the spring, replacing much larger exercises the U.S. and South Korea agreed to cancel in recent years. Dong Maeng is largely computer-based and much smaller than traditional exercises such as Foal Eagle or Key Resolve, but it is still drawing ire from the North.

Davidson said tensions "are greatly reduced" since Trump began meeting with the North Korean leader, but there is still a long way to go to put the country on a path toward denuclearization.

"I'm not Pollyanna-ish about this," the admiral said. "There is no doubt in my mind that North Korea is continuing to develop nuclear weapons and continuing to develop long-range ballistic missiles to fire them."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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