SEOUL, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- South Korea and the United States began joint military drills Monday as Korean families, separated since the Korean War, held reunions in the North.
The two events provided a contrast, as the belligerent and nuclear-armed North Korea had threatened to back out of the reunion of the families separated since the 1950-53 war if South Korea went ahead with its Key Resolve and Foal Eagle annual exercises with the United States, scheduled to last until April.
With South Korea standing firm on holding drills, after maintaining they are routine and defensive in nature, the North relented and allowed the family reunions, the first since 2010, beginning last week and ending Tuesday.
South Korea's Yonhap News said the latest developments come amid improving ties between the Koreas.
The report said the two-week Key Resolve is a computer-based command post exercise, involving about 10,000 South Korean and 5,200 U.S. forces. Foal Eagle will be a combined field training drill, in which 7,500 U.S. troops, including 5,100 from other places, will conduct a ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations.
This year's South Korean participation in Foal Eagle will involve fewer than 200,000 forces as some soldiers have been mobilized to help contain the outbreak of bird flu and remove record levels of snow along the east coast, Yonhap said.
North Korea, despite South Korean assurances, has said it sees the drills a rehearsal for an attack against it.
A South Korean military official said the drills, in view of the family reunions and the need to refrain from provoking the North, would be "low-key" without involving high-profile nuclear bombers and carriers.
In an article in the BBC, Andrea Berger, research fellow in nuclear analysis at the Royal United Services Institute, said North Korea in the past has reacted hysterically when such drills were held. During last year's exercises, the Communist country threatened nuclear attacks against the United States and escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has continued with its long-range missile launches and conducted its third nuclear test a year ago in violation of U.N. resolutions.
"As is often the case when dealing with pattern-prone Pyongyang, a repeat of this belligerence remains an unfortunate possibility despite the North and South's recent cooperation in briefly reuniting dozens of families separated by the Korean War," Berger warned.
The article said the United States and South Korea, however, see the drills as preparing them to defend the South in the event of a serious threat and providing assurance to South Korea the United States is prepared to come to its defense, whether with conventional or nuclear weapons.