Local retired generals said it is too soon to speculate what President Donald Trump’s announcement regarding halting the annual U.S.–South Korean military drills really means until details on the agreement between the U.S. and North Korea are released.
“It’s important to be very vigilant on the peninsula,” said retired Gen. James Thurman, a Salado resident whose last duty assignment was as the top U.S. Army general in South Korea. “I think this is a positive development in terms of talking to Kim Jong Un.”
Thurman was the commander in South Korea when Kim came into power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011 and gives credit to Trump for bringing the current North Korean leader to the table to talk.
“I always said we needed to sit and talk to him,” said the retired four-star general. “And see what’s going on because we couldn’t continue down the path that we were on.”
Although there have been past attempts to negotiate with Kim, retired Lt. Gen. Don Jones, who lives in the Fort Hood area, is optimistic with the “totally different approach that we’re taking.”
According to the Associated Press, Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would stop military exercises, his description of those drills as “provocative” and his suggestion that he wants to pull U.S. troops out at some point are “all things that Trump is putting on the table as concessions, all in exchange for some vague promises by the North Koreans,” said Paul Haenle, a former China director at the White House National Security Council in the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
Annual military drills between Washington and Seoul have been a major source of contention between the Koreas for years, and analysts have wondered whether their continuation would hurt the inter-Korean detente that, since an outreach by Kim in January, has replaced last year’s insults and threats of war. North Korea last month broke off a high-level meeting with Seoul over South Korea’s participation in a two-week military exercise with the United States.
“It’s important that we don’t get all excited, the situation needs to develop from what we have going on right now,” said Thurman.
Sometimes those military war games can include Fort Hood troops. While there are no Fort Hood troops deployed to South Korea now, Fort Hood brigades have been part of regular Army rotations to the peninsula as part of the nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.
One of the biggest takeaways from the meeting for the retired general is starting the recovery of POWs and MIAs in North Korea.
“We need to recover our missing,” he said. “And bring our Americans home. I think there’s some positive developments but it’s too early to tell.”
The Associated Press contributed to the story.