Gov’t mulls new military unit for western islands

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Gov’t mulls new military unit for western islands


A North Korean coastal artillery base seen from Yeonpyeong Island yesterday, the fourth day after North Korea bombarded the island with deadly shells. [NEWSIS]

The government is considering creating a military command body to strengthen defenses on the five South Korean islands near the disputed maritime border with North Korea, including the one shelled by North Korea on Tuesday.

“The Presidential Committee on Defense Advancement submitted a report to the Blue House suggesting the creation of a headquarters over the five western islands including the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines,” said a government official.

The proposal was made three days after North Korea barraged Yeonpyeong Island, 122 kilometers (78.5 miles) west of Incheon, killing two marines and two civilians. Yeonpyeong, along with the islands of Baengnyeong, Daecheong, Socheong and U, are already fortified strategic areas for the South Korean military because of their proximity to North Korea.

Major inter-Korean clashes, including the Cheonan sinking in March, which killed 46 South Korean soldiers, occurred near the five islands.

President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday ordered augmentation of the military armaments and personnel on the islands amid growing public doubt that the government is willing or capable of properly responding to North Korean provocations.

According to the government official, the report suggests increasing the number of military personnel on the five islands 2.4 times.

Currently, around 5,000 soldiers are posted on the islands. The report suggested an increased force of 12,000.

The report also suggested the commander of the new body be given full-fledged authority to react swiftly to provocations by North Korea.

The report also said the military needs to dispatch armaments with up-to-date technologies to the islands, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The South Korean military bought 120 Harpy anti-radar UAVs from Israel in 2001, but none of them were dispatched to the western islands.

A full-fledged fortification of the islands was also recommended in the report.

“The five western islands should be transformed from a defensive base to an assault-launching base in the case of emergency,” said the committee official. “The weapon system [for the defense of the islands] needs to be configured to that end.”

Lee Hoi-chang, head of the conservative Liberty Forward Party, urged the fortification of Yeonpyeong at a parliamentary meeting yesterday.

The military remains cautious about the plan.

“The Yeonpyeong attack raises the necessity for a strengthened combat force in the five island regions, but the creation of the new command there is still a new idea,” said a military official.

By Moon Gwang-lip, Ko Sung-pyo []
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