S.Korea, US start annual military drills

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Seoul, April 1 (IANS) South Korea and the US started their annual joint exercises on Sunday, after reducing the duration this year due to the current rapprochement with North Korea, the Defense Ministry announced here.

Around 11,500 US troops and some 300,000 South Korean soldiers are set to participate in the first of the two drills, Foal Eagle, which will continue for four weeks, one month less than its normal duration, reports Efe news.

This year, important strategic assets of the US, such as large-scale aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines will not be deployed in the exercises like in other years.

Seoul and Washington have stressed that the number of deployed troops and the intensity of the maneuvers are similar to earlier years and announced that naval forces of both countries will carry out the amphibious landing exercise Ssangyong (Double Dragon) on April 8.

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This drill will involve the US vessels USS Wasp – a ship carrying F-35B stealth fighter aircraft – and the USS Bonhomme Richard, Yonhap news agency reported.

The two allies will also carry out the two-weeks Key Resolve maneuvers, an exercise including computer-based simulations from April 23 with the participation of 12,200 US soldiers.

The decision to cut short the exercises seems to be aimed at maintaining the current climate warming relations with North Korea, which views the drills as a rehearsal for invading its territory, and amid plans for two historic summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the presidents of South Korea on April 27 and the US in May.

The start of the drills, which usually commence between the end of February and the beginning of March, was postponed due to the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, an event which started a detente with Pyongyang and the announcement of the two summits.

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