Marines plan to establish unit to protect Dokdo

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Marines plan to establish unit to protect Dokdo

The Korean Marines relayed plans to establish a unit solely responsible for protecting the country’s easternmost Ulleung Island and Dokdo islets on Tuesday in a report to the parliamentary National Defense Committee.

The report, which was submitted to the committee in part of its regular audit of the military, explained that the Marines were planning to form an “Ulleung Unit” on “a mid- to long-term” basis in order to prevent “potential threats” against the areas. Ulleung Island is about 58 miles west of the Dokdo islets.

A timeline was not given in the report, nor did it explicitly explain where those potential threats were originating from, but Dokdo made local headlines in July after a Russian aircraft violated Korea’s airspace over the islets during a combined aerial operation with China, which prompted Korean fighter jets to release a barrage of flares and warning shots.

The territorial dispute over Dokdo, which Korea administers but Japan claims, is also one of several historical issues dividing the two countries.

On another front, the Marines said in its report Tuesday that Seoul and Washington carried out more combined marine exercises in 2019 than in previous years.

The allies conducted 24 rounds of the Korea Marine Exercise Program (KMEP) this year, up from 11 in 2018 and 17 in 2017. Next year, the two sides are planning to hold 22 rounds of the KMEP drills, it added. The exercise is designed to bolster defense of Korea’s northwestern border islands.

The Marines are also pushing to expand their presence in U.S.-led international exercises starting next year by sending more marines to the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in Hawaii and the Cobra Gold exercise staged in Thailand. Marine troops will join additional U.S.-led marine exercises such as those held in Australia and the Philippines starting in 2021.

BY YONHAP, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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