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US fighters soar for small-scale drills as Winter Games close

F-16s taxied out for a training mission during the 2017 Exercise Beverly Herd at Osan Air Base. The exercise is underway again this year.

VICTOR J. CAPUTO/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 26, 2018

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — U.S. combat jets screamed over the home of the 51st Fighter Wing a day after the Winter Olympics wrapped up in Pyeongchang.

American and South Korean forces have postponed two massive Peninsula-wide exercises — Foal Eagle and Key Resolve — until the Paralympic Games, also in Pyeongchang, end on March 18.

But smaller drills such as Beverly Herd, a five-day wing-level exercise that kicked off at Osan on Monday, continue, U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman Elise Van Pool said in an email.

“Based on the size of some of the semiannual, annual and biennial exercises we conduct [in South Korea] many of which are combined and joint with multiple nations participating, I would not characterize a wing-level exercise as major,” she said.

51st Fighter Wing spokeswoman Capt. Carrie Volpe said the drills would be similar to past iterations of Beverly Herd. The exercise usually features Osan-based airmen in chemical protective gear responding to simulated missile attacks and A-10 and F-16 aircraft flying hundreds of sorties.

North Korea claims that the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve drills are rehearsals for an invasion, while U.S. and South Korean military officials insist they’re purely defensive.

The delays in the large-scale war games are part of an easing of tensions on the peninsula that saw athletes from the two Koreas march together under a Korean unification flag at the Olympic opening ceremony.

Post-games messages have been mixed.

Last week, the U.S. slapped sanctions on companies accused of shipping banned products to the North. Pyongyang has called any blockade “an act of war” but, on Sunday, expressed interest in talks with the United States.

fichtl.marcus@stripes.com
Twitter: @marcusfichtl

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