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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea will next week begin two annual independent military exercises, the ROK‘s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced on Friday.
The drills, known as the Taeguk Command Post Exercise (CPX), will be the first of their kind to take place since September’s inter-Korean military agreement and will last from Monday until Friday.
“The military plans to establish military readiness posture and improve mission capability through the exercise,” the JCS said.
The JCS’s operations command, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND), the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), and the headquarters of the ROK army, navy, and air force, among others, will join in the exercise.
The Moon administration in July said the Taeguk drills, originally scheduled to be conducted in June, would be postponed, along with the large-scale annual civil defense drills known as Ulchi.
Seoul will now stage the Taeguk exercise alongside the annual Hoguk Field Training Exercise (FTX), which is typically conducted in late October.
“This year’s drills will be staged during the period of Hoguk exercise to maintain readiness posture throughout the year in a balanced manner and improve practice effects considering the suspension of Ulchi Freedom Guardian,” the JCS added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in June said Seoul and Washington had “indefinitely suspended selected exercises,” including large-scale joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) drills and the Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP).
The KMEP was set to be staged by South Korea in cooperation with the United States Marine Corps bases in Japan between July and September.
The Hoguk FTX will led by the JCS and be conducted between October 29 and November 9 in front and rear areas of the border with the North.
The exercise has been “annually staged to strengthen joint operations capabilities among the army, navy, and air force and the Marine Corps,” the JCS said, stressing the “defensive nature” of the drills.
The announcement comes as the two Koreas hold their third round of general-level military talks this year, aimed at reducing tensions and discussing the ongoing implementation of September’s North-South military agreement.
Questions remain, however, over whether the conducting of the Hoguk drills would run counter to that agreement – a point not addressed in Friday’s JCS statement.
September saw the two Koreas agree to “cease various military exercises aimed at each other along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL)” from the beginning of November.
Seoul and Pyongyang also agreed to conduct a complete halt of “all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea.”
And despite Seoul and Washington’s previous commitment to suspend KMEP, the Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) last Friday said the drills were set to be staged 24 times next year.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) later in the day, however, said the allies would be suspending the Vigilant Ace joint annual air combat exercise.
South Korea’s defense ministry is yet to confirm the suspension, insisting the final decision will be made at the ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in Washington next Wednesday.
Friday saw the MND say that Mattis and South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo will use that meeting to “have an in-depth discussion on various pending security issues including the measures to conduct the ROK-U.S. joint military drills.”
Other topics include plans to transfer conditions-based wartime operational control (OPCON) and to cooperate in “achieving the complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Ministry of National Defense