Controversy erupts over US suspension of bomber missions over peninsula


 Controversy erupted Tuesday over a US general’s remarks that South Korea had asked the US Air Force to stop sending bombers over the Korean Peninsula in an effort to support ongoing diplomatic talks with North Korea.

According to Agence France-Presse, US Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Charles Brown told Pentagon reporters Monday that US bombers are no longer conducting flights over South Korea, as Seoul has asked for such missions to be halted. 

The Ministry of National Defense countered Brown’s comments, saying there were prior consultations between Seoul and Washington. 

“Such issues are not subject to one side’s unilateral decision, they require consultations between South Korea and the US,” said Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo during a regular press briefing Tuesday.

Choi, however, declined to comment on when the two governments had decided not to send bombers over the Korean Peninsula. The US Air Force has reportedly not conducted any bomber missions here for about a year.

Despite the halt in flights over the Korean Peninsula, Gen. Brown said the overall number of bomber flights has not changed, and the Air Force has focused on bomber training missions with Japan and Australia.

The commander also noted that the suspension of joint air combat drills, such as Vigilant Ace, was done at the request of South Korea and was being mitigated by resizing partnered exercises, according to the Military Times.

“We’re able to scope exercises … we do our exercises a little bit differently than we had originally planned,” Brown said. “And so for each of our exercises we’ll continue to plan up until we get guidance that changes that exercise.” 

US Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Charles Brown (left) and former Defense Minister Song Young-moo. Yonhap

The Defense Ministry suggested last month that the suspension of Vigilant Ace was first proposed by the Pentagon. In its meeting with reporters, a senior defense official said Seoul offered to adjust the scope of the exercise rather than canceling it altogether.

The US and South Korea have scaled back or scrapped several joint military drills since the historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said next year’s Foal Eagle exercise would be scaled back to avoid hurting diplomatic efforts with North Korea. Mattis said the exercise was being “reorganized a bit” to keep it from “being harmful to diplomacy.”

The Defense Ministry said South Korea and the US have yet to decide on the extent to which the exercise will be adjusted. Earlier this month, Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo said the plan for the upcoming exercise will be laid out no later than Dec. 1.

“Consultations are still underway between South Korea and the US,” spokesperson Choi said, denying a media report that working-level consultations for the upcoming exercises had been completed. “There are many types of processes involved in developing exercise plans.”


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