President Donald Trump’s call to suspend U.S.-Korea exercises earlier this year did not impact unit-level training, which went on as planned to sustain readiness, the Pentagon said Monday.
Over the weekend South Korea’s Yonhap News Service reported that U.S. and Korean forces resumed the Korea Marine Exercise Program on Monday and they are beginning a two-week exercise involving III Marine Expeditionary Force and 500 troops from the South Korean Marine Corps.
However most lower-level exercises actually were never paused, the Pentagon said.
“The exercises in Korea, on the Korean peninsula, have been ongoing ... to ensure readiness,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning told reporters Monday. “They’ve never stopped. The ROK-US alliance has maintained its responsibility to fight tonight and ensure that it has the right readiness level to be able to respond.”
Manning said while command-level exercises including Ulchi Freedom Guardian and Vigilant Ace had been suspended, “that does not negate the fact that at the unit level, these exercises are taking place. And even at the higher staff level we’ve taken certain measures to make sure that proficiency is maintained.”
In a summit between the U.S. and North Korea earlier this year, President Donald Trump pledged to suspend what he perceived as wasteful wargames that North Korea views as provocative. The cancellation of those exercises was seen by North Korea as an integral part of any denuclearization talks.
It’s been almost a year since North Korea tested its last ballistic missile, after firing missiles throughout most of 2017 that proved the country had rapidly advanced its missile capabilities.
There has not been additional forward movement on the talks, and military leaders including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said that the exercises would resume if North Korea did not meet its end of the agreement.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.