S.Korea, US start annual military drills

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A joint military exercise involving USÂ and South Korean troops got underway in South Korea on Sunday amidst easing tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula, local media reported.

The annual Foal Eagle drill - a series of field training exercises involving about 11,500 United States and 290,000 South Korean troops - began early yesterday, a South Korean Ministry of Defense spokesman said.

From April 23, the two allies will also begin the computer simulated Key Resolve games for two weeks, involving 12,200 US troops and 10,000 South Korean soldiers.

More than 11,500 service members, including thousands based outside of Korea, plan to participate in the four-week Foal Eagle training, along with around 300,000 South Korean soldiers.

In announcing the dates last month, Pentagon spokesman Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan insisted the exercises are "defense-oriented and there is no reason for North Korea to view them as a provocation".

The unprecedented meeting between a member of the Kim family and a sitting US president was agreed to on the spot by President Trump earlier this month, shocking many in Washington and around the world.

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The drill - which was delayed to avoid clashing with February's Winter Olympics in the South - will be held for a month in April, about have the time it usually lasts. The U.S. military also is expected to deploy fewer strategic weapons such as U.S. aircraft carriers and supersonic bombers, South Korean officials have been quoted as saying.

In March, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a visiting South Korean delegation in Pyongyang that he "understands" the situation regarding the joint drills, according to South Korea's National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong, who had led the delegation.

Pyongyang has long denounced the joint drills as a symbol of Washington's hostile policy and rehearsal for invasion.

A Pentagon spokesman said in March that the two joint drills would involve about 23,700 USA troops and 300,000 South Korean forces.

The flurry of reconciliatory moves comes after the Pyeongchang Winter Games, which the North used to mount a charm offensive, sending athletes, cheerleaders and even leader Kim Jong Un's powerful sister as a delegate.

Pyongyang and Seoul are also scheduled on April 27 to hold a summit, their first in more than a decade.

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