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Border island command to be launched

South Korea will launch a new military command Wednesday to better defend the five northwestern border islands, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.

North Korea’s November shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, prompted calls for stronger measures to safeguard the islands of vital strategic value, which this new command is designed to meet.

The ceremony to mark its launch is to take place at 3 p.m. at the Marine Corps Command in Balan, Gyeonggi Province.

It will be attended by top military officials, politicians and dignitaries including Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp, officials at the JCS said.

The 5,000-strong command under the JCS control will be headed by the three-star commander of the Marine Corps. It will have a one-star marine officer as its vice commander.

Seventy-seven senior military officers including 21 from the Army, Navy and Air Force will fill the command’s leadership posts. In efforts to ensure jointness in the command, affairs concerning intelligence, operations and fire power will be handled by colonel-level officers from the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, respectively.

The Sixth Marine Brigade and the Yeonpyeong Unit will come under the operational control of the new command.

The command will receive operational directives from the JCS chairman with regard to the troop arrangement and their operations. But those matters concerning military administration such as education, training and logistics will be regulated by the Navy headquarters, officials explained.

Ahead of the establishment of the command, the JCS has deployed to the border islands a series of military assets including multiple launch rocket systems and a new artillery radar system. It also plans to deploy several attack helicopters.

The establishment of the command is part of the military’s reform efforts following not only Yeonpyeong but the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel the Cheonan. These incidents, critics say, have exposed a series of shortcomings in the military, particularly its ability to deal with North Korea’s asymmetrical provocations.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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