U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo have canceled the “Vigilant Ace” military exercise that was slated for December, a Pentagon spokesperson said Friday.
At a meeting in Singapore the two officials agreed to suspend the drill to “give the diplomatic process” with Pyongyang “every opportunity to continue,” spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement on Friday, October 19.
“Both ministers are committed to modifying training exercises to ensure the readiness of our forces,” the statement read, saying the need for future exercises would continue to be evaluated.
Last year’s Vigilant Ace drills involved 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops, the largest ever joint air exercise between the U.S. and South Korea, and a move North Korea labeled an “all-out provocation.”
Following U.S. President Trump’s June meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the United States said it would suspend “select” exercises with South Korea, including the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises scheduled for August.
Jeong said in August no decision had been made over whether to conduct the drills after Trump cancelled some exercises to ease relations with Pyongyang.
Mattis said at the time that there were no plans to suspend more drills.
Last month, the then nominee to head U.S. and United Nations forces in South Korea said the pause in drills had been a “prudent risk” to help facilitate a detente on the peninsula.
But there “was certainly a degradation in the readiness of the force, for the combined forces,” General Robert Abrams told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing.
With reporting from AFP