SEOUL — The U.S. and South Korea announced plans Monday for two annual spring military exercises, which come amid questions of whether Seoul will assume wartime control of allied forces as planned next year.
North Korea has in recent weeks said the two countries should cancel the drills, and the yearly announcement of the dates typically prompts scathing responses from Pyongyang.
However, Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a press briefing last month that the exercises will go ahead despite any criticism from the North.
“It shouldn’t be alarming. It’s not a change. We do these every year,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to do them as long as the risks on the Korean peninsula persist.”
Approximately 12,700 U.S. troops will participate in the drills, with nearly half arriving from off the peninsula. About 200,000 South Korean troops will participate, with all but 10,000 taking part in Foal Eagle, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
“The scenarios are realistic, enabling us to train on our essential tasks and respond to any crisis which may arise,” U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said of Key Resolve in a statement released by the U.S. military.
As the top U.S. commander, Scaparrotti also heads the Combined Forces Command and would lead both U.S. and Korean troops during wartime, a responsibility now scheduled to be transferred to the top South Korean commander in December 2015.
Last year’s Key Resolve was the first led by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff and not the CFC, and was essentially a dress rehearsal for the 2015 transfer.
However, South Korea has requested a delay due to concerns over the threat posed by North Korea. A decision on whether to postpone the transfer, which was initially supposed to happen in 2007 but has been postponed twice, is expected later this year.
Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, along with the late summer Ulchi Freedom Guardian, are the largest joint exercises held in South Korea each year. About 5,200 U.S. servicemembers will participate in Key Resolve, and 7,500 will participate in Foal Eagle.
The two allies will employ a new “tailored deterrence” strategy for the exercises that targets the North Korean nuclear threat. Officials have released virtually no information about the strategy, agreed on by the U.S. and South Korea last fall, other than to say it is still in the conceptual stage and will be refined after exercises.
During last year’s spring exercises, North Korea leveled a series of threats at the U.S. and South Korea, significantly heightening tensions to the point that the U.S. flew nuclear-capable B-52s over the peninsula on a practice mission. The U.S. beefed up its missile defense systems and conducted other shows of force that included F-22 fighters and a nuclear attack sub, while South Korea warned it would respond with force to even a small provocation
The United Nations Command has informed North Korea of the exercise dates, as well as the “non-provocative” nature of the drills, according to the CFC. North Korea had not commented as of Monday afternoon.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.