June 08, 2011 08:48
The U.S. military expressed misgivings when South Korea bolstered firepower along the border with North Korea following the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in March last year, apparently for fear that this would escalate tensions.
A government source on Tuesday said U.S. Forces Korea Commander Walter Sharp "conveyed Washington's concerns" to South Korean top brass around June last year after Seoul "drastically stepped up firepower near the demilitarized zone in May last year" when North Korea threatened to shoot at loudspeakers broadcasting anti-communist propaganda, which was resumed as part of sanctions against the North.
Seoul apparently aimed to launch a massive retaliation against any additional provocations by North Korea. The source said K-9 self-propelled howitzers, multiple-launch rocket systems, and 105 mm and 155 mm howitzers were placed on emergency standby ready to return fire immediately.
The military also deployed TOW anti-tank missiles along the border and put large numbers of border troops on standby at underground bunkers. It also built new steel and concrete guardposts along the DMZ to replace the old sheds.
But the U.S. government did not want what it perceived as a heavy-handed response to escalate the standoff into a full-fledged war. South Korean officers told Sharp that Seoul was not preparing for a preemptive strike but only getting ready to respond to a North Korean attack. They also said Washington need not worry that Seoul would violate the DMZ.
Entry of troops and military equipment into the DMZ requires permission from the USFK commander, who also heads the UN Command, but the South Korean military controls the positioning of troops and arms along the fence and inside the civilian passage restriction line just south of the DMZ.
The readiness level was apparently lowered last summer, raised again when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island in November, and lowered again early this year.
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