Posted August. 22, 2017 08:20,
Updated August. 22, 2017 08:54
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said a reduction of the U.S. troops taking part in the ROK-U.S. joint military exercise Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) had nothing to do with the opposition from Pyongyang.
Secretary Mattis said Sunday (local time), “The reduction in the number of troops on the peninsula during the annual joint military exercise is unrelated to North Korean tensions,” adding that the focus of the drills this year is on integration operations, according to the Pentagon and Reuters. The statement came as an answer to a question if the reduction of U.S. troops by thousands of soldiers was decided on considering the tensions from North Korea.
Secretary Mattis said that the exercise had been planned out months earlier, adding that UFG is a joint military exercise, and it was decided upon after having consultations with the officials concerned.
According to the Pentagon, the number of U.S. troops taking part in the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise is 17,500. Last year, as many as 25,000 troops were mobilized. Mattis explained that this time the exercise was designed to focus on command as a response to certain circumstances. It has been reported that the military will use a computer simulation where the joint forces are to fight virtual war with North Korea armed with nuclear weapons.
Secretary Mattis said that North Korea is well aware of the fact that UFG is a defensive exercise, dismissing North Korea’s accusing the UFG drill of being an invasion exercise. He also stressed that UFG has been conducted for decades, and it is being carefully planned out and run transparently to prevent misunderstanding.
Amidst the rising tensions between North Korea and the U.S. following Pyongyang’s test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile last month, China and Russia argued that the North’s nuclear and missile programs and the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises must be suspended simultaneously.