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US, South Korea 2019 Foal Eagle Exercises Scaled Back For ‘Diplomacy' - Mattis

© AP Photo / Jacquelyn MartinSecretary of Defense Jim Mattis answers a question from a reporter during his meeting with Indonesia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi, Monday, March 26, 2018, at the Pentagon
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis answers a question from a reporter during his meeting with Indonesia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi, Monday, March 26, 2018, at the Pentagon - Sputnik International
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Washington and Seoul will be scaling back the joint Foal Eagle military exercises scheduled for the spring of 2019 in order to avoid disrupting ongoing denuclearization talks with Pyongyang, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Wednesday.

Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon that Foal Eagle will be "reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy," adding that it would be "reduced in scope."

Mattis did not offer additional details regarding how either country would be scaling back the drills, nor did he say if any decisions have been made about other potentially problematic exercises in the region.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017 - Sputnik International
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The Foal Eagle drills, which involve a combined force of ground, air, naval and special operations troops, take place every spring, and they're not the only exercise to have been recently altered. According to Stars & Stripes, both the US and South Korea have canceled their last four large-scale drills so as to keep talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ongoing.

With the suspension of both the Ulchi Freedom Guardian and the Vigilant Ace air force training exercise, US defense officials have raised concerns regarding the forces' readiness should cancellations continue.

US Army Gen. Robert Abrams told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September that repeatedly canceling military exercises would lead to a "slight degradation" in American combat readiness, Defense News reported at the time.

"The suspension of military exercises… was a prudent risk if we're willing to make the effort to change the relationship with [Pyongyang]," Abrams, who heads Army Forces Command, said.

"I think there is certainly degradation to the readiness of the force. That's a key exercise to maintain continuity and to continue to practice our interoperability, and so there was a slight degradation."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a military parade marking the 105th birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the founder of North Korea, in Pyongyang - Sputnik International
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However, while large-scale operations have been suspended, Mattis has indicated that the Defense Department is still conducting smaller exercises. The secretary previously stated in August that such exercises haven't been publicized in order to avoid North Korea viewing the drills as an uptick in US aggression.

Earlier this year, in light of thawing relations between North and South Korea, the 2018 Foal Eagle exercises were reduced down to four weeks after being initially postponed for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Sputnik previously reported.

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