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Seoul asked U.S. to stop bomber runs: General

Nov 28,2018
U.S. bombers are no longer flying over South Korea because Seoul asked for a pause due to the ongoing diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang, an American general said in Washington on Monday.

“As we’re going through the diplomatic aspect, we don’t want to actually do something that’s going to derail the diplomatic negotiations,” said Gen. Charles Brown, head of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces. “That’s part of the reason we’re not doing [flights] over Korea.”

Brown’s remarks came as he was talking with Pentagon reporters, according to AFP.

The AFP report did not mention when exactly Seoul made the request to Washington and when the request was accepted and went into effect. Choi Hyun-soo, spokeswoman for South Korea’s National Defense Ministry, neither confirmed nor denied Brown’s comment about Seoul’s request. During a regular press briefing on Tuesday, she said that such matters are usually decided upon by mutual agreement between the allies.

Citing a source in the South Korean military who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Yonhap News Agency reported that the last time U.S. bombers flew near South Korea was in November 2017, shortly after North Korea test-fired a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29. The regime claimed the missile was capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. Air Force used to routinely fly bombers over South Korea from Guam, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific, as part of training or to warn North Korea against raising tensions in the region.

Pyongyang reacted sensitively to the flights, denouncing them as U.S. efforts aimed at invading the country.

Seoul appears to have made the request early this year, when South Korea and the United States began suspending and scaling down several major joint exercises. The Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises were postponed until after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics hosted by South Korea. The exercises were held in April on a smaller scale compared to last year.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that Foal Eagle, the largest regular joint exercise held by South Korea and the United States, will be scaled down next spring to a “level that will not be harmful to diplomacy.”

In response to concerns that the adjustments might affect the allies’ readiness, Gen. Robert Brown, the head of the U.S. Army Pacific Command, said that high-level joint exercises were continuing off the peninsula.

“Battalion and below exercises on the peninsula is fine. And that’s working very well on that small unit level,” he said during an interview with Defense News published Monday. “And then above that, we’re doing the higher-level exercises off the peninsula. We just did some in Hawaii, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Washington state; even in Alaska we worked some scenarios, and we invite the ROKs [Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name] to do that.”

The Army commander continued, “Obviously, not as many can come. It’s not as good as doing an exercise there in [South] Korea, but it’s certainly better than not doing it at all.”

South Korean defense spokeswoman Choi refused to specify on Tuesday the specific joint military exercises the allies were holding off on the peninsula, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]