US, S Korea kick off low-key joint drills amid détente

The two joint drills would involve about 23,700 US troops and 300,000 South Korean forces

The United States and South Korea quietly kicked off annual war games involving hundreds of thousands of troops on Sunday in the first major test of a new push for peace with the North.

A two-week, computer-simulated exercise known as Key Resolve is due to start on April 23 with some 12,200 Americans and 10,000 South Korean military personnel.

The two-month long Foal Eagle exercise has been reduced to a four-week run with no major USA strategic assets such as supercarriers or nuclear submarines expected to be deployed to the peninsula, Yonhap reported.

Subsequently, Kim is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump for the first-ever summit between the two countries, though the date and venue have yet to be determined.

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Tension on the flashpoint peninsula have showed signs of easing in recent months after the isolated, nuclear-armed North proposed summits with the South and their "imperialist enemy" the US.

Foal Eagle is due to last four weeks, half the duration of the drills previous year.

The exercises are usually held every year around March but they were postponed this year until after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in reportedly requested the military rescheduling prior to the event.

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Five South Korean special envoys who visited Pyongyang last month told Kim that Seoul no longer had any "justification" to stop or delay the joint exercises, to which Kim replied that he "could understand" why the drills had to resume in April and on the same scale as before, according to Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Council within the Blue House, who led the delegation from Seoul. The North has fiercely objected to the drills in the past, calling them a rehearsal for an invasion.

As many as 12,200 US troops are expected to be mobilized in late April for further drills in South Korea.

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

Relations between the US and North Korea also appear to be thawing lately.

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