US, South Korea hold low-key air drills amid North Korea peace push

Washington, Seoul scale down exercises to support efforts for peace on Korean Peninsula.

 The United States and South Korea kicked off joint aerial exercises on Monday amid ongoing efforts to restart denuclearization talks with North Korea.

The drills have been scaled down since 2017 to support peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

From tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of jets and warplanes, the five-day exercises have been cut down to “some 100 air assets each, including F-15K and KF-16 jets from South Korea and F-16s from the US,” the report said.

Officials also declined to share details of the drills, only saying that they are being carried out in a “balanced manner.”

“We cannot comment on the exercise as it is one that is not disclosed to the media,” the agency quoted an air force official as saying.

The drills come just a week after South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed Seoul’s desire to pursue peace talks with Pyongyang despite heightened tensions this year.

Moon met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Rome last Friday, urging the pope to visit North Korea to boost the peace initiative.

According to Moon, the pope said he would be willing to visit North Korea if he was invited by Pyongyang.

On Monday, the South Korean government called on North Korea “to respond positively” to the proposal, reiterating that a visit by Pope Francis will bolster “hope for progress in efforts to promote regional peace,” Yonhap reported.

Already fraught relations between the neighbors have been further strained since the US and South Korea held joint military exercises this August, which sparked criticism and a series of missile tests from North Korea.

Seoul and Pyongyang both tested ballistic missiles in September, and North Korea went a step further by testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile last month, which was its eighth missile launch in 2021 and the fifth since September.


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