South Korean air and ground forces conducted their largest-ever wintertime live fire exercise Thursday on a fog-shrouded mountainside just 30 kilometers from the North Korean border.
A pool reporter said the firing range at Pocheon echoed with explosions from racing tanks, artillery and rockets. Helicopters hovered overhead and F-15 warplanes dropped bombs into the snowy valley during the 42-minute exercise, which ended shortly before 3 p.m. .
Elsewhere, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited a front-line military unit and South Korean naval forces staged a second day of seaborne exercises off South Korea’s east coast.
The Yonhap news agency quoted Mr. Lee as saying he had been mistaken to think patience can bring peace to the Korean peninsula. He said he now realizes tough actions like Thursday’s drills are the only way to prevent North Korea from starting a war.
North Korea’s official news agency denounced the exercises Thursday as “fanatical drills for invasion” of its territory. But it did not threaten retaliation, as it did before an artillery exercise on Monday.
The United States said the latest exercise is transparent and defensive and “should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans.”
South Korean officials said Wednesday that the exercise, which is much larger than previous drills conducted at the base, was organized in response to North Korea’s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island last month. Two soldiers and two civilians were killed in the attack, which came during a South Korean live-firing exercise.
The South resumed live firing exercises from the island for the first time Monday, defying threats from the North of overwhelming retaliation. The exercise ended without incident and the North declared it was “not worth” its trouble to respond.
However South Korean forces remain on alert in case of any surprise attack. The general in charge of Thursday’s exercise, Ju Eun-shik, said Wednesday the South will “completely punish” the North if it opens fire on the Pocheon drill.