Pentagon Ignoring Trump Decision To End North Korean
Above: US Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson escorted by military ships toward North Korea.
The U.S. military is making plans to restructure, scale down, and reschedule military training with South Korea, while ensuring troops remain at a high state of readiness, Pentagon officials said Tuesday after President Trump’s surprise announcement that the exercises will end.
“We will maintain the fighting readiness of our forces,” said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the policy is still being refined.
But several sources said training would continue without the high-profile “in-your-face” named exercises that are regularly announced and given aggressive code names such as Max Thunder and Key Resolve.
“The Department of Defense welcomes the positive news coming out of the summit and fully supports the ongoing, diplomatically-led efforts with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said a statement from chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White. “Our alliances remain ironclad, and ensure peace and stability in the region. The Presidential summit outcome is the first step along the path to the goal: complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
In making the surprise announcement in Singapore, Trump said “war games” with the South would end “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.”
The Pentagon confirmed that the next major military exercise — Ulchi Freedom Guardian — is scheduled for the fall. A spokesman said no new guidance has gone out to commanders in the field because there are still many questions on how the president’s commitment will be implemented.
Last year’s exercise was held in August, lasted 10 days and involved 17,500 U.S. troops. Service members from South Korea joined forces with the U.S. and seven other countries. Ulchi Freedom Guardian is a “computer simulated defense exercise,” the Pentagon says.
Both Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford were well aware of Trump’s plan to suspend large-scale military exercises, according to Pentagon officials who spoke privately.
“Mattis spoke about what was not on the table, not what was on the table,” one official said, referring to a Monday meeting with reporters in which he said there was no discussion of withdrawing any U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted at the move when he told reporters at a pre-summit briefing in Singapore, “We’re prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique than [what] America’s been willing to provide previously.”
But because the option was under wraps, and contingent on a positive meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, planning is just now underway to decide which exercises should be “sped up, scaled back or suspended,” according a military official familiar with the planning
Pentagon officials say they are also waiting to get a briefing from Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, who is the Defense Department’s liaison with the State Department team leading the diplomatic effort.
In making the announcement to end what he called “war games,” Trump cited both the cost and provocative nature of the exercises.
“Under the circumstances that we are negotiating a very comprehensive, complete deal, I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games,” Trump said. “So number one, we save money, a lot, and number two, it really is something that I think they very much appreciated.”
Trump also complained that South Korea does not pick up 100 percent of the cost of annual exercises, which he said are “tremendously expensive.”
“The amount of money that we spend on that is incredible,” Trump said, “which is certainly a subject that we have to talk to them about.”
Among the examples Trump gave was the expense of flying U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 long-range bombers from a U.S. base in Guam.
“I said, ‘Where do the bombers come from?’ ‘Guam, nearby.’ I said, ‘Oh, great. Nearby. Where is nearby?’ ‘Six and a half hours.’ Six and a half hours? That’s a long time for these big massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and then drop bombs all over the place and then go back to Guam,” he said. “I know a lot about airplanes, it’s very expensive. And I didn’t like it.”
Last month, the U.S. reportedly canceled a B-52 bomber exercise with South Korea, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing U.S. officials.