October 19, 2018 13:51
The South Korean and U.S. air forces can no longer conduct air raid drills in frontline areas because an inter-Korean military agreement significantly widens the no-fly-zone on both sides of the border, an opposition lawmaker said Thursday.
The Liberty Korea Party's Baek Seung-joo cited Air Force information that South Korea and the U.S. have so far staged close air support and airborne alert attack drills in a 27 to 54 km-area from the military demarcation line.
They practiced incapacitating North Korean tanks and armored vehicles to support South Korean ground troops in a war and striking North Korea's long-range artillery.
But the military pact the two Koreas signed on Sept. 19 expands the no-fly zone as of Nov. 1 so that no military aircraft can fly within 20 km of the MDL in the western area and 40 km of the MDL in the eastern area. This means the drills can no longer be staged as they have been.
The U.S. Forces Korea has protested because aerial reconnaissance activities and air raid drills will be restricted, which it fears will weaken the response capability against any surprise attacks from the North.
The North has deployed 70 percent of its Army within 10 km from the MDL together with about 350 170-mm self-propelled guns and 240-mm multiple rocket launchers trained on the Seoul metropolitan area.
The USFK left the 210th Field Artillery Brigade in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province north of the Han River to counter North Korean artillery when it withdrew most of its troops further south to Pyeongtaek.
The South Korean Air Force wants to designate a new area for the drills south of the new no-fly zone, but the USFK has not yet agreed. A military officer said, "Seoul has sought consent from the USFK several times to the expanded no-fly zone but the USFK still opposes it."
Baek warned that relocating the air-raid drills "is tantamount to giving up a strategic advantage that can deter the enemy's determination to launch provocations."
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