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Korea-U.S. drills to map out N. K. endgame scenario

Next month’s joint military drills by South Korea and the United States will simulate an endgame scenario for North Korea that has the military recover the entire territory of the peninsula after the collapse of the Kim Jong-un regime, a military official said Thursday.

The relatively rare simulation -- military operations are usually focused on hitting the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang -- coincided with Defense Minister Han Min-koo saying that the annual war games would be “the biggest yet,” in line with President Park Geun-hye’s hard-line policy toward North Korea.

Seoul and Washington are slated to carry out annual Key Resolve and Eagle Foal drills from March 7 to April 30. Key Resolve, a computer-simulation exercise, is conducted for two weeks.

The Korea-U.S. joint Key Resolve drill in 2015 (Yonhap)
The Korea-U.S. joint Key Resolve drill in 2015 (Yonhap)


According to the official speaking on anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, the war game is a multiple-stage drill that simulates war breaking out, military operations surrounding the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and operations that take place in the later stages of the war.

“This year’s operations will involve recovering key facilities that are located deep within North Korea, all the way near its northern borders,” the official said. This means that the war game scenarios will simulate the military taking over the entire peninsula, beyond the North Korean capital.

The Koreas -- technically still at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War was ended by an armistice, not a treaty -- have been baring teeth at each other since Pyongyang’s recent nuclear testing and rocket launch.

But the official said that the scenario was not affected in any way by recent North Korea provocations, stressing that it was already agreed upon last year. He added that Key Resolve had been conducted under the same scenario before.

He explained that the biggest elements of North Korean threat are its leadership under Kim Jong-un and its weapons of mass destruction, which means it is important to neutralize related facilities north of Pyongyang.

The North’s main nuclear complex is located in Yongbyon, in the northwest corner of the country.

“The scenario will include the special operations forces being deployed to border areas adjacent to China and Russia,” the official explained. The troops will attempt to keep the Chinese and Russian military in check, while trying to avoid altercations, he said.

In light of the standoff with the North, President Park on Tuesday said that the North must realize that its nuclear programs will lead to its downfall.

Washington, on its part, showed off strength and its alliance with Seoul by deploying its strategic assets here, including F-22 Raptor stealth jets.

Military officials have stated that this year’s drills will be “a strong warning to the Kim Jong-un regime,” which will show that the allies have the capacity to neutralize North Korean threats.

According to Defense Minister Han, 290,000 of South Korean military personnel will take part, which is about 1.5 times more than usual. Around 15,000 soldiers from the U.S., including the Combat Aviation Brigade and Marine Expeditionary Brigade, will participate, which is also double the annual average.

This year’s drills will also include the new Operation Plan 5015, which reportedly encompasses plans for preemptive strikes against key facilities in North Korea, such as missile launch sites. It is the first time OPLAN 5015 is being applied in the annual drills since formally being approved last year.

The allies will also enhance surveillance against potential provocations from Pyongyang during the drills.


By Yoon Min-sik
(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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