Biggest live-fire drills held by Korea and U.S.

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Biggest live-fire drills held by Korea and U.S.

South Korea’s military began its largest ever live-fire exercises using heavy weaponry with U.S. forces Wednesday just eight days after land mines planted by North Korea maimed two South Korean soldiers.

The National Defense Ministry announced Wednesday its forces will carry out the exercises in the border city of Pocheon, Gyeonggi, in collaboration with the U.S. Forces Korea and they will last through Aug. 28.

The exercises, which involve 47 military units and 2,000 soldiers from two allies, are the first such joint live-fire drills in three years and the largest since the two allies first conducted such heavy-weaponry exercises in 1977, according to the Defense Ministry.

From the Korean side, K-2 Black Panthers, FA-50 fighter jets and K-21 armored vehicles will be mobilized.

U.S. forces will dispatch Bradley fighting vehicles, Apache helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolts among other weapons.

The military said four separate drills will take place over the 17-day campaign, with the first drill completed on Wednesday.

The second set of drills will take place next Tuesday while the third and fourth will be conducted on Aug. 24 and 28.

The military made clear the ongoing exercises are designed to deter North Korean provocations such as the planting of three land mines in the southern border of the demilitarized zone near Paju, Gyeonggi.

“Through this exercise, the military will display a firm defense readiness against unjust provocations [by the North] through a strong military alliance with the U.S.,” said the ministry in a statement released Wednesday.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo was barraged with questions during a hearing at the parliamentary defense committee when he failed to say when President Park Geun-hye had been briefed about the mine explosions last week.

“I have yet to confirm when the president was briefed,” said Han in reply to Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the ruling Saenuri Party’s former floor leader.

When further pressed by Yoo why he had not directly informed the president as defense chief, Han said he understood Park had learned of the incident from a briefing by the National Security Council (NSC) at the Blue House, not through him.

Han’s explanation did not stop the questions from lawmakers across the political divide over why the president did not get briefed from her own defense minister.

The fact that President Park did not mention the mine explosions Monday during a meeting of senior presidential secretaries on the same day the military announced the outcome of its joint probe with the UN Command, raised questions over whether Park had been told of the matter at all.

Rep. Yoo also expressed frustration at how the Blue House’s National Security Council was handling the case, pointing out that the government proposed talks with North Korea on Aug. 5, just a day after the land mine explosions.

“What were they doing at the NSC?” said Yoo in a harsh tone.

Following the hearing, members of the parliamentary defense committee unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the North’s alleged planting of the land mines, calling it a “provocative act with clear intention to inflict damage” on the South Korean military, the resolution, co-signed by 159 lawmakers, demanding the North’s apology.

North Korea remained tight-lipped Wednesday on the land mine accusations.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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