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South Korea, US begin drills amid threat
Publication Date : 11-03-2013
South Korea and the US kick off their annual 10-day Key Resolve drills today - the day Pyongyang said it would scrap the armistice agreement and inter-Korean nonaggression pacts.
The allied militaries have remained on high alert for North Korean provocations near sea and land borders during their regular drills, including the one-month Foal Eagle exercise to run until April 30.
On Sunday, the North, which denounced the drills as a “rehearsal for a nuclear war of incursion,” warned its troops are waiting for an “ultimate order to charge in” on its hostile forces.
“All means for our style of precision, nuclear strikes also maintain their combat mobilisation posture. When the sound of gunfire for the holy war of reunification is heard, the US and South Korea would immediately turn into a sea of fire,” the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a piece.
To cope with the spiraling tension on the peninsula, President Park Geun-hye is expected to officially appoint scandal-laden Defense Minister nominee Kim Byung-kwan on Tuesday, sources said. Kim has been upbraided for allegations of tax evasion and other ethical lapses.
Ratcheting up its defense posture, Seoul warned last week that it would launch a counterstrike - 10 times stronger than the provocation - at the origin of the attack, forces supporting it and its commanders.
Seoul and Washington will soon complete their joint plan to respond to North Korean provocations and are now in “final coordination,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, dismissing the reports concerning the delay due to the difficulty reconciling the allies’ differences over it.
“It is not a delay, but we are pushing to complete the plan in line with the changing situations including the North’s missile launch (in December) and nuclear test (on February 12). It has been proceeding according to our mutual schedules,” it said in a statement.
The allies initially planned to complete the plan by January this year, but have yet to finalise the work apparently due to some differences over the scope of a potential counterattack.
Seoul argues it should launch a strong counter strike in the name of self-defense while Washington appears uneasy about Seoul taking too aggressive a stance due to the risk of provocations escalating into a full-blown war, which could drag in both the US and China.
As the international community, including its only major ally China, has been moving toward tougher punishment for its February 12 nuclear test, Pyongyang has spewed out a series of hostile statements against Seoul and Washington.
Some 13,500 allied troops including around 3,500 US forces are to join the Key Resolve command post exercise, where the allies are expected to mobilise top-of-the-line weapons systems such as the F-22 stealth combat aircraft.
Officials and observers said in time for the drills, the North could stage its own national-level exercise, which involves all of its armed services including special warfare troops, in areas in and around Wonsan, Gangwon Province.
As the communist state has recently set no-fly, no-sail zones in its western and eastern frontline areas, the South Korean military has been keeping closer tabs on the possibility of North Korean provocations.
It believes the North could launch short-range missiles such as the KN-02 missile with a range of around 120 km and Scud-B/C missiles with ranges of 300-500 km.
Some observers said Pyongyang could launch attacks in cyberspace or low-intensity provocations similar to the sinking of the corvette Cheonan or artillery attack on Yeonpyeongdo, both of which took place in 2010, killing a total of 50 South Koreans.
On Saturday, Pyongyang’s foreign ministry dismissed a fresh UN Security Council sanctions resolution as a “byproduct of US hostile policy,” and vowed to make permanent its status as a nuclear power and satellite-launching country.
Unanimously adopted on Thursday to condemn the North’s third atomic test, the UNSC Resolution 2094 entails tougher sanctions including those targeting illicit activities of North Korea’s diplomats, financial transactions and bulk-cash transfers.