The biggest U.S.-South Korea war games ended Thursday as they began, with little fanfare, in what may have been an attempt by the allies to avoid provoking North Korea.
Approximately 50,000 South Korean troops and 30,000 U.S. troops — about 3,000 of whom were brought in from outside the peninsula — took part in this year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a computer-simulation exercise described by the U.S. as “routine and defense-oriented” and based on “realistic scenarios” to ensure “we are fully prepared to defend the Republic of Korea should the need arise.”
It was scheduled to end Friday. A U.S. Forces Korea statement did not say why it wrapped up early.
The computer simulations took place across the peninsula, and, according to the statement, allowed the two militaries to evaluate and exercise capabilities ranging from military intelligence, logistics, joint air procedures and plans and systems including Combined Space Operations.
U.S.-South Korea exercises are a particularly sensitive subject with nuclear-armed North Korea, which regularly condemns them as preparations for an invasion. It warned the United Nations earlier this week that it would respond more strongly to the “gangster-like war exercises,” though it did not offer details, according to The Associated Press, but it remained relatively peaceful during the drills.
Despite the large scale of the two-week Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, U.S. and South Korean defense officials have offered few details, aside from inviting the media to a field training exercise for combat medics at Camp Humphreys.
Official acknowledgment of UFG came only late on the afternoon of Aug. 18, the day it began. USFK said it publicly announced the start after notifying North Korea of the drill that afternoon. The command also said it does not discuss exercise scenarios as a matter of policy. South Korean defense officials also would not discuss specifics about the exercise.
Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said Washington and Seoul tried to avoid drawing media attention to UFG as a conciliatory gesture toward the North.