Most senior military officials caught off guard by Trump “war games” announcement

President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would be stopping “war games” exercises it conducts with South Korea stunned most senior military officials and appeared to cause some confusion among lawmakers like Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who were briefed by Vice President Pence.

CBS News’ David Martin reports that Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said Mattis “was not surprised. He was consulted” on Mr. Trump’s decision. 

But the suspension of exercises hit the traveling delegation like a “bombshell” and sent members scrambling to notify the South Koreans, catching most senior officials by surprise and leaving them unable to explain what the suspension of “war games” means. For instance, they don’t know whether Mr. Trump was referring to exercises like sending F-22 fighter jets to South Korea to conduct training, or eliminating long-range bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, or Foal Eagle, which is the name of the combined field training exercises conducted every year by the U.S. and South Korea. 

Mr. Trump told reporters in Singapore after his summit, “We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.  But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money.  Plus, I think it’s very provocative.”

The military doesn’t use the term “war games.” It calls them exercises.

On the hill, after the vice president briefed lawmakers, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, told reporters that military exercises “will continue with South Korea” despite the president’s remarks. 

Mr. Trump had also said it would be “inappropriate to be having war games” with South Korea while working out the administration’s deal with North Korea. He said it would be “very provocative.”

Gardner, however, maintained, “I think what the vice president said today will continue to clarify what the president had talked about. Exercises will continue with South Korea. Look forward to further comment and clarification from the president when he gets here.”

While many were left confused on the change in message, Gardner later tweeted that the vice president “was very clear” that “regular readiness training and training exchanges will continue.” 

Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah, however, disputed that the vice president ever made such comments at the Senate lunch.

About 30 minutes later, Gardner followed up his original comments with a clarification — that the vice president “went on to say while this readiness training and exchanges will occur, war games will not.”

Meanwhile, the United States Forces Korea, which conducts the exercises, said in a statement that it has received “no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises.”

“In coordination with our ROK partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense (DoD) and/or Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM),” the statement added.

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