SEOUL — The U.S. and South Korea quietly wrapped up their annual spring training drills on Friday, as the end of the massive Foal Eagle exercise was overshadowed by efforts to rescue passengers of a sunken ferry of the southwestern tip of the peninsula.
Some 12,700 U.S. troops took part in either the Foal Eagle field training exercise, which began Feb. 24 and ended Friday, or the Key Resolve command post exercise, which ran Feb. 24-March 6. About 200,000 South Korean troops participated.
This year’s Foal Eagle exercise included the Ssang Yong amphibious landing, which, according to South Korean media reports, involved some 9,500 U.S. Forces and 4,500 South Korean sailors and marines.
A 7th Fleet ship that took part in Ssang Yong responded Wednesday to the sinking of the Sewol, a South Korean ferry carrying 475 passengers, nearly 270 of whom remain missing. The USS Bonhomme Richard was conducting routine maritime operations in the Yellow Sea when the sinking took place, and MH-60 helicopters on board the ship have been taking part in search-and-rescue operations.
The spring exercises are traditionally a time of heightened tension with North Korea, which routinely criticizes the drills as being provocative in nature. During this year’s exercises, the North conducted several rocket and ballistic missile launches and the two Koreas on March 31 fired hundreds of shells across their disputed maritime border.