Monday, 28 Sep 2020

South Korea, US delay military drills over Covid-19 concerns

SEOUL (REUTERS) – South Korea and the United States will start their annual joint military drills on Tuesday (Aug 18), in what local media said was a two-day delay after a South Korean officer tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The drills will start on Tuesday, “considering the Covid-19 situation”, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Sunday (Aug 16).

The training, which had been scheduled to begin on Sunday, was pushed back after the positive test on Friday (Aug 14) of the army officer, who was to have taken part, Yonhap News Agency said.

The combined drills are closely monitored by North Korea, which calls them a “rehearsal for war”. They have been reduced in recent years to facilitate US negotiations aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes.

This year’s exercises will be scaled down, not mobilising US-based troops amid Covid-19 restrictions on the travel of US personnel to South Korea.

This year’s programme, running to Aug 28, will focus on a “combined defence posture”, while exercises for the transition of wartime operational control on the Korean peninsula will be “partly conducted,” the joint chiefs said in a statement.

This could delay President Moon Jae-in’s plan to take over wartime operational control from the US before his term ends in 2022, experts say.

South Korea and the US had cancelled their springtime drills due to the pandemic.

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