By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. military said on Wednesday it was the first time a South Korean general has commanded an annual joint exercise with the U.S. military, a move toward Seoul’s long-term- A delayed target to gain command of allied forces in the event of a war.
The Allies began their largest joint military exercise in years, called Ulchi Freedom Shield, on Monday, resuming field training, It aims to increase preparations for a potential weapons test by North Korea.
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement that the exercise consisted of 11 days of “computer-simulated, defense-oriented training activities” to improve the readiness of allied forces.
During the exercise, U.S. Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, commanding U.S. Forces Korea, the U.S.-Korea Combined Forces Command (CFC), and the United Nations Command (UNC), switched positions of U.S. Army Vice-General Ahn Byung-seok said.
LaCamera said in a statement that the move is based on future command plans outlined last year by the defense ministers of the United States and South Korea.
“This is important because, for the first time ever, the CFC Deputy Commander will take the lead as the future CFC Commander,” he added.
Since the 1950-1953 Korean War, the U.S. military has retained control of hundreds of thousands of South Korean troops and the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the country if another war breaks out.
President Yoon Se-yeol said South Korea was not ready to control these joint forces, but faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, pushed by his predecessor Moon Jae-in
Yoon mentioned factors such as the need to strengthen surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sub took part in Wednesday’s exercises, which the ministry said were aimed at better deterring and responding to North Korea’s nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats.
North Korea criticized the joint exercise as a rehearsal for an invasion, calling it a “hostile” policy” proving that Washington and Seoul are indeed not interested in diplomacy.
Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez