Report: U.S., South Korea militaries to conduct pared down drills

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The United States and South Korea could be reducing the scale of annual military exercises in August, according to a South Korean press report on Friday. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA

The United States and South Korea could be reducing the scale of annual military exercises in August, according to a South Korean press report on Friday. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA

The United States and South Korea could move forward with a scaled down version of combined military exercises in August, according to a South Korean press report.

Television network MBC reported Friday the two militaries agreed to training involving fewer troops on both sides, due to ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19.

Other reasons for downsized joint military exercises could include North Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said he will continue to seek dialogue with the North despite recent tensions. In Washington, the Trump White House could be considering a third official summit with Kim Jong Un, according to U.S. analyst Harry Kazianis.

U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Lee Peters told Voice of America’s Korean service this week the military would “not comment on planned or executed training events publicly,” in order to “preserve space for diplomacy to work.”

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But Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control during the Obama administration, told VOA it’s “very unlikely” President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un could meet before the U.S. presidential election.

The novel coronavirus is also hampering bilateral efforts to verify South Korean readiness for the transfer of wartime Operational Control Authority, or OPCON.

The process of carrying out the Full Operational Capability test would require hundreds of U.S. Pentagon officials to visit Korea, but due to COVID-19 they would also be required to undergo a two-week quarantine, according to MBC.

U.S. Forces Korea has reported new outbreaks of the coronavirus on base this week, following the addition of new U.S. military personnel who entered the country at Osan Air Base in July. A total of 14 U.S. military members have tested positive for COVID-19, and nine people were asymptomatic, USFK has said.

On Tuesday, USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said in a tweet the army “tests on arrival and limits any potential exposure.”

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Quarantine is strictly enforced, Abrams said.

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