In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)
TOKYO — In recent years, thousands of U.S. and South Korean soldiers met face-to-face on a mock battlefield to prepare for a potential attack from North Korea.
Now, after President Donald Trump scrapped the biggest joint exercises, the bulk of the newly designed "Alliance" drill taking place through March 14 will involve senior officers sitting in front of computers for what's known as a "command post exercise." While the army won't provide exact figures, many soldiers who took part in previous years will be on the sidelines.
"It's like putting together a national baseball team by having professional players practice alone instead of together," said Kim Ki-ho, a former colonel in South Korea's army who oversaw military operation planning at the Combined Forces Command.
The Pentagon is permanently canceling the large-scale military exercises in South Korea usually held in the spring, U.S. officials said Friday, handing Pyongyang a long-sought concession only days after a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke up without a deal.
The timing of the decision raised questions about whether Trump was giving away a major piece of leverage over North Korea, which has long denounced the exercises as provocative, and failing to get anything in return.
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers
The U.S. and South Korea announced Tuesday that a toned-down version of annual joint military drills would begin April 1 amid a potentially monumental thaw in ties with nuclear-armed North Korea that could see the allies’ two leaders hold separate summits with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Friday that “all options” are being considered to counter North Korea’s emerging nuclear threat, including a militarily strike if necessary to safeguard allies and tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in the region.