Saturday, December 18, 2010

U.S. Troops to Observe South Korean Live-fire Drills

By Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - U.S. trainers and observers will be present for South Korean live-fire artillery drills planned to start tomorrow and to continue until Dec. 21, Defense Department officials said today.

A Pentagon spokesman told reporters the drills will occur as scheduled, and are intended to ensure that South Korean forces are prepared to respond to any threat to their security and stability.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the drills during a question-and-answer session following a briefing to Pentagon reporters yesterday.

"The area [where] they're going to conduct these live-fire drills is an established and well-used range," Cartwright said. "It's not a new activity, and it's not one that the North Koreans haven't seen on a routine basis."

Because the live-fire drills are set for Yeonpyeong Island, site of a Nov. 23 North Korean artillery attack that killed four people, South Korea has taken pains to ensure its intent is clear, Cartwright said, noting that artillery positions on another nearby island will be included in the drill.

"The impact area is out in the water, not pointed towards the land," the vice chairman said. South Korean officials earlier this week laid out exactly what they were going to be doing and when they were going to be doing it, "so that we would take any ambiguity out that was at all possible," he added.

Cartwright said South Korea's government also has published information on the planned drills extensively on the Web "to ensure that anybody in that area knows what's going to go on and when it's going to go on, including a notice to mariners."

A total of 21 U.S. military trainers and observers on the two islands will be present for the drills, along with a contingent of United Nations troops, Cartwright said.

According to news reports in South Korea, the government has announced that island residents will be evacuated or, if they prefer, housed in shelters while the live-fire drills take place.

"If North Korea were to react to that in a negative way and fire back ... at those firing positions on the islands, that would start potentially a chain reaction of firing and counter-firing," he said. "What you don't want to have happen out of that is ... for us to lose control of the escalation. That's the concern."