Military forces set to strengthen amphibious drill

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Military forces set to strengthen amphibious drill

The South Korean and U.S. Marine Corps plan to drastically bolster their joint amphibious drill amid increased military tensions with Pyongyang, a military official here said Sunday.

It will be part of the joint military exercises conducted annually by Seoul and Washington. The Key Resolve exercise, scheduled to kick off March 7, will involve 15,000 American troops and powerful U.S. military capabilities, including a combat aviation brigade, a nuclear-powered submarine group and aerial refueling aircraft.

They are slated to be the largest ever.

“As a part of the joint drills between South Korea and the United States, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, the Korea and U.S. Korean Marine Corps will conduct the Ssangyong drill under a joint command,” the official said.

The Ssangyong exercise, an annual amphibious landing drill, has been conducted by the Marine Corps of South Korea and the United States since 2012. It is intended to be a military response to escalating tensions on the peninsula following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, and subsequent long-range missile launch on Feb. 7.

“The Ssangyong exercise takes place each year, but this year after landing on the shore we will increase the level of training on the landing operation and also lengthen the period,” the official said.

A total of 10,000 troops will take part in the Ssangyong drill, with 3,000 from the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. Of the 7,000 participating American troops, 4,500 will come from the United States in addition to those based in Okinawa.

The drill will also take advantage of the American V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans.

“If large-scale attack drills mobilize smart weapons to demonstrate armed power to make the largest damage possible, an amphibious landing exercise is a type of occupation drill so that in terms of military significance, North Korea will feel a greater threat,” said another military official here.

Seoul and Washington will implement their new military strategy operation plan, Oplan 5015, which calls to deter North Korea’s possible use of weapons of mass destruction by preemptive attack.

The size of U.S. troops and assets to be deployed this time for the upcoming joint military drills is double what the United States has sent in past years, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

On Saturday morning, North Korea fired artillery into the sea north of Baengnyeong Island, near the two countries’ disputed maritime border, according to the South Korean military officials. However, the South’s military said none of the artillery seemed to have landed south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea.

Amid the tense standoff between the North and the South, Baengnyeong residents were told to be prepared to evacuate if necessary before the loud explosive sounds were determined to be a part the North’s artillery drills.

Still, the move could be interpreted as an attempt by Pyongyang to raise tensions, especially ahead of the joint military drills with Washington next month.

On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was reported in state media to have observed and commanded field exercises by the North Korean Air Force in preparation for an attack and defense posture.

The country’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, without disclosing the date, that Kim had watched the aerial maneuvers, which were staged in three directions to bolster operational readiness.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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