SEOUL — The annual Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercises were to kick off Monday, scheduled to last through March 20.

The peninsulawide joint exercises feature thousands of visiting U.S. servicemembers from duty stations around the world.

As in previous years, Key Resolve/Foal Eagle was preceded by protests from the North Korean government, which claims the exercise is preparation for an invasion.

This year’s protests led the United Nations Command and the North Korean army to resume general officer-level talks after a seven-year hiatus.

USFK spomesman Dave Palmer said the talks were requested by the North in the interest of easing the growing tensions on the peninsula. The first of the new talks took place March 2 and were primarily used by the North as a platform to rail against the exercises, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. A second set of general officer talks took place Friday.

A U.N. Command press release said the command, represented at the 45-minute meeting by a delegation led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Johnny Weida, assured the North that the exercises are "purely defensive in nature and have no connection to ongoing or current events."

UNC representatives also used the meeting to address recent North Korean threats to civilian aircraft, the release said.

The United Nations Command news release said the UNC considered Pyongyang’s statement "entirely inappropriate, had raised great concern in the international community and should be retracted immediately."

This year’s exercises have been surrounded by media speculation, much of it erroneous, according to USFK officials. South Korean media reported that B-2 and F-22 aircraft from U.S. bases on Guam and Okinawa would be participating, but those reports are incorrect, according to a 7th Air Force spokesman at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

Palmer, a USFK spokesman, said reports that 26,000 U.S. servicemembers have come to South Korea for the exercise are a "mischaracterization." He said 26,000 is the approximate number of people participating in the exercises, including those who are normally stationed in South Korea.

Originally known as Reception Staging Onward Movement and Integration/Foal Eagle, the first portion had its name changed in March 2008 to Key Resolve to reflect the changing roles of American troops on the peninsula.

Key Resolve is a command-post exercise — a computer-based simulation that focuses on bringing new troops and equipment onto the peninsula in the event of a contingency. Foal Eagle is a series of field exercises. Both exercises have U.S. servicemembers and civilians working closely with their South Korean counterparts.

As in previous years, according to a policy letter on the U.S. Forces Korea Web site, servicemembers are prohibited from drinking during the exercises.

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