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US, South Korea to conduct joint drills

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US, South Korea to conduct joint drills

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Photo: REUTERS/Yuyang Wang/File photo

The US and South Korea will today begin simulated counterattack drills against North Korea.

The computer-simulated exercises will constitute the primary focus of the second half of the annual combined drills, which will continue until Friday. Live field training—normally an integral component of the annual drills—will be significantly limited by COVID-19 travel restrictions. Regular joint exercises were cancelled in February due to the outbreak.

An important consequence of the reduced participation is the inability to conduct a Full Operational Capacity (FOC) test, a necessary step towards the transfer of wartime Operational Control Authority (OPCON) from the United States Forces Korea—the 28,000 US combat forces currently stationed in South Korea—to South Korea itself. Seoul, which ramped up live naval drills in June amid rising tensions with Pyongyang, views OPCON transfer as a major step to greater military autonomy and set 2022 as a target date for the assumption of operational control.

Expect ongoing travel restrictions to delay the OPCON transfer to South Korea past 2022. However, with President Donald Trump’s complaints regarding the costs of maintaining US troops in South Korea and tense US-North Korean relations, Trump may push for a faster transfer if he is re-elected in November.

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Photo: Niall Carson / Associated Press

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