The Pentagon is now working to implement President Donald Trump’s direction that it cancel joint exercises with the Republic of Korea following Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Under the circumstances, we are negotiating a comprehensive and complete deal [on denuclearization]. It is inappropriate to have war games,” Trump said in a press conference following the summit in Singapore. “Number one, we save money. A lot. Number two, it is really something they very much appreciated.”
In that press conference in Singapore, Trump also said that he would like to withdraw the thousands of U.S. forces stationed on the Korean Peninsula, but would start with cancellation of military exercises.
“I want to get our soldiers out,” Trump said in Singapore. “I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. I would like to be able to bring them back home.”
However the president added that at present, “that’s not part of the equation.”
“At some point, I hope it would be. We will stop the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money,” Trump said. “Unless and until we see the future negotiations [with North Korea] is not going along like it should. We will be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, it is very provocative.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Forces-Korea said that the military had not been planning for cancellation of the exercises.
Additionally, the South Korean government issued a statement that Trump’s decision on the exercises had caught them by surprise, the New York Times reported.
“USFK has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises — to include this fall’s scheduled Ulchi Freedom Guardian,” U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Lovett told Military Times in a statement.
“In coordination with our ROK partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense and/or Indo-Pacific Command,” the statement said.
The U.S. conducts two major joint exercises with South Korea each year, Ulchi Focus Guardian, which is scheduled for this August, and Key Resolve/Foal Eagle in the spring. This year’s Foal Eagle was pushed back to de-conflict it with the Winter Olympics. A part of that exercise, Max Thunder, irked the North Korean leader to the point that he cancelled one of the pre-summit talks with South Korean president Moon Jae-In.
The exercises “do take months to plan but they happen every year so the logistics have been ironed out over the years and it’s easy enough to flex as needed,” Lovett said.
Trump’s decision comes a day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea wasn’t a point of negotiation with North Korea, and that it was a decision that would be made between the South Koreans and United States.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, said DoD was now following up on the President’s direction but did not have further immediate details.
“The Department of Defense continues to work with the White House, the interagency, and our allies and partners on the way forward following the U.S./DPRK summit. We will provide additional information as it becomes available,” Logan said in a statement.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."