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ROK-US military drills scaled back

Officers on Camp Walker check on vehicles entering the US Army base in Daegu. (Yonhap)
Officers on Camp Walker check on vehicles entering the US Army base in Daegu. (Yonhap)

South Korea and the US decided to scale back the annual joint military exercises scheduled to begin within the next several days, as the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Korea limited the ability of both militaries to participate, CNN reported, quoting three US officials.

The decision would affect the command post exercise that begins March 9. The exercise tests the combat readiness of top commanders and senior staff of both sides in computer simulated events against North Korea.

On Monday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that scaling back was being considered, but that it would not have a military impact.

“I’m sure that we’ll remain fully ready to deal with any threats that we might face together,” Esper said at a Pentagon press conference alongside the South Korean defense minister.

But the US could weaken its capability to perform highly coordinated and synchronized operations with South Korea if the joint drills are cut back as they were in August 2018, US officials told CNN.

The absence of full-time drills could affect the readiness of American forces here, as 50 percent of troops are replaced every year, according to CNN.

On Wednesday, a US Forces Korea soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in North Gyeongsang Province near Daegu tested positive for COVID-19. He was the first US service member to have the virus, after a widow of a former service member was found to be infected a day earlier.

On Monday, the 23-year-old patient, now in self-quarantine off the base, had visited Camp Walker, one of three American installations in Daegu that the widow also visited before contracting the virus.

South Korea’s military reported a total of 18 COVID-19 cases and quarantined over 9,200 personnel as of press time. Across the country, the virus has sickened more than 1,100 and killed 12 people.

By Choi Si-young (