Seoul / AFP
The United States has temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea following North Korea’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, US Forces Korea said on Saturday.
The move came as the two allies plan to start detailed discussions on bringing in an advanced, high-altitude US missile defence system opposed by China as early as next week.
“This deployment is part of an emergency deployment readiness exercise conducted in response to recent North Korean provocations,” the US Forces Korea said in a press statement, referring to the temporary roll-out of a Patriot missile battery, which was flown from Fort Bliss, Texas this week.
“Exercises like this ensure we are always ready to defend against an attack from North Korea,” said Lieutenant General Thomas Vandal, commander of the US Eighth Army.
The newly deployed Patriot battery is conducting ballistic missile defence training with the Eighth Army’s 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Osan Air Base, some 47 kilometres (30 miles) south of Seoul.
The brigade has its own two Patriot battalions. One Patriot battalion is reportedly composed of four batteries.
Just hours after North Korea launched a long-range rocket that both condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test, South Korea and the United States announced their intention to start discussions on deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD).
The Pentagon has since stressed that it would like the system to be deployed in South Korea “as quickly as possible”.
A senior South Korean defence ministry official said Friday detailed discussions on THAAD deployment would kick off as early as next week.
China and Russia argue that it would trigger an arms race in the region, with Beijing voicing its “deep concern” over the deployment.
South Korea had previously declined to formally discuss bringing in THAAD in deference to the sensitivities of China, its most important trade partner.
But North Korea’s continued missile testing and frustration with Beijing’s resistance to imposing harsh sanctions on Pyongyang apparently triggered a change in Seoul’s stance.
N Korea lacks technology for anti-US nuclear strike: Pentagon
North Korea is committed to striking the United States with a nuclear-armed missile, but it can’t do so without outside help, due to shortfalls in its own technology, the Pentagon said.
The report to Congress was written prior to a fourth nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang last month and the launch of a satellite-bearing rocket earlier this month.
North Korea’s KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile “likely would be capable” of striking the continental US if successfully designed and developed, said the report.
However, North Korea has not been able to conduct flight tests on the highly complex system, and its “current reliability as a weapon system would be low.”
“The pace of its progress will also depend, in part, on how much technology and other aid it can acquire from other countries,” it said.
Pyongyang is testing a separate type of technology to strike the US with intercontinental ballistic missiles launched into space but lacks a re-entry vehicle, the report added.
A test to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine in November ended in failure.
The report, which is required by law, made note of North Korea’s Special Operations Forces, saying they are “among the most highly trained, well-equipped, best-fed and highly motivated forces” in the country’s military.
Strategic SOF units “appear designed for rapid offensive operations, internal defense against foreign attacks or limited attacks against vulnerable targets in the ROK (South Korea) as part of a coercive diplomacy effort,” it added.
“They operate in specialized units, including reconnaissance, airborne and seaborne insertion, commandos, and other specialties.” The international community has for years tried to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but the country shocked the world last month when it announced it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
The US Congress earlier adopted tougher sanctions against Kim Jong-Un’s regime, following unilateral measures from Japan days earlier. The US also is leading a push for tougher UN sanctions against Pyongyang.
And South Korean firms have abandoned a joint industrial park that helped fund Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
The Pentagon report also said North Korea is continuing to sell weapons to other countries, circumventing sanctions by using false documents and intermediaries.