By Steven Borowiec
Later this month, the US and South Korea will stage annual military exercises around the Korean peninsula. Last year’s war games led to months of high tensions as North Korea vociferously objected to joint drills being held near its territory. Its strongly-worded threats in 2013 to the US and South Korea raised fears of a potential conflict, but the drills passed off without incident.
This year could follow the same pattern: North Korea threatened Thursday to cancel planned reunions of war-divided families, one day after the two Koreas reached an agreement on the first such reunions in four years. It accused the US of flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers near the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s outbursts notwithstanding, preparations for the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises had been taking place in a more subdued atmosphere amid signs of improved inter-Korean ties. Wednesday’s announcement that families divided by the Korean war would be allowed to meet later this month is one sign of this tentative thaw.
In an effort to keep the situation calm, the US military has scaled down this year’s exercises.The number of participating US troops is expected to be lower than in previous years, though no final figures have been announced. Last year around 10,000 US troops joined the Foal Eagle exercises and about 2,100 joined Key Resolve. More than 28,000 US soldiers are stationed in South Korea.
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