South Korea has mobilised troops, tanks, helicopters and fighter jets for its largest winter military drills in a show of force a month after North Korea’s deadly shelling of a front-line island.
The drills, which begin at training grounds in mountainous Pocheon near the Koreas’ heavily-fortified border, signalled South Korea’s determination to demonstrate and hone its military strength at the risk of further escalation with North Korea.
Jeeps wove their way up a winding road to the military base, passing armed soldiers and a ski resort where skiers and snowboarders were enjoying fresh snowfall. A thick fog hung over the area.
Exactly a month ago, routine South Korean live-fire drills from Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea triggered a shower of North Korean artillery that killed two marines and two construction workers.
It was the first military attack on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.
North Korea, which claims the waters around the South Korean-held island lying just seven miles from its shores as its territory, accused the South of sparking the exchange by ignoring Pyongyang’s warnings against staging the live-fire drills near their disputed maritime border.
Amid international concerns of all-out war on the tense Korean peninsula, South Korea has pushed ahead with military exercises over the past several weeks, including live-fire drills from Yeonpyeong Island and Monday’s land-based exercises.
The latest drills will be the biggest-ever wintertime firing exercises staged by South Korea’s army and air force, a military statement said.
Forty-seven similar exercises have taken place this year but today’s manoeuvres were planned in response to the North Korean attack, an army officer said.
There was no immediate response from North Korea, which has shown restraint in recent days.