US, South Korea begin annual joint military exercises
By Giles Hewitt ,AFP
February 25, 2014, 12:51 am TWN
EOUL -- South Korea kicked off its annual joint military exercises with the United States on Monday, despite vocal opposition from North Korea that will test a recent upswing in cross-border ties.
The start of this year's drills overlaps with the first reunion for more than three years of families divided by the Korean War — an event that has raised hopes of greater North-South cooperation.
Pyongyang had initially insisted that the joint exercises be postponed until after the reunion finishes on Tuesday, but Seoul refused and — in a rare concession — the North allowed the family gathering to go ahead as scheduled.
The annual "Key Resolve" and "Foal Eagle" drills — routinely condemned by North Korea as rehearsals for invasion — will last until April 18 and involve a combined total of 12,700 U.S. troops and many more from South Korea.
"Key Resolve" lasts just over a week and is a largely computer-simulated exercise, while the eight-week "Foal Eagle" drill involves air, ground and naval field training.
Seoul and Washington insist they are both defensive in nature, playing out various scenarios to combat a North Korean invasion.
Last year's drills fuelled an unusually sharp and protracted surge in military tensions, with Pyongyang threatening a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and nuclear-capable U.S. stealth bombers making dummy runs over the Korean peninsula.
U.S. defense officials have indicated — in an apparent effort to mollify the North — that this year's drills will be slightly toned down, with no aircraft carrier and no strategic bombers.
However, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok insisted Monday there would be "no readjustment" in the scale of the maneuvers.