Mattis on whether canceled exercises affected readiness in South Korea

Army Gen. Robert Abrams said the decision to cancel exercises with South Korea led to a “slight degradation” in American readiness.

The cancellation of major fall exercises with South Korea only led to a slight degradation in military readiness, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday.

Mattis' remarks came a day after President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the next commander for U.S. Forces-Korea, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, told Congress the same — that the readiness of the approximately 28,000 U.S. forces on the peninsula was slightly impacted by the cancellation of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises with South Korea.

“That’s a key exercise to maintain continuity and to continue to practice our interoperability, and so there was a slight degradation,” Abrams said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Abrams also told Congress that the loss of the fall exercise would not lead to long-term damage, and was an acceptable risk if it led to progress on diplomatic talks with North Korea.

On Wednesday, Mattis acknowledged the degradation, but called it negligible.

“If you emphasize the word slight, certainly if you’re not training today then you could say there’s a slight degradation. Is it notable? Is it material?" Mattis said. "I think that’s why he [Abrams] put the word slight in there. So there is no ... there’s nothing significant to it.”

Mattis also said he had not made any determination on what exercises, such as the annual Foal Eagle joint U.S.-Korea exercise, was necessary to maintain readiness in the spring.

“I’ll give my advice to the president,” Mattis said. “As you all know, you take risks in war. We also take risk in peace. We do not believe the risk right now is anything other than negligible.”