Frustration Mounts as Protesters Block THAAD Site Access

  • By Yu Yong-weon

    April 13, 2018 12:35

    The site of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province has become like a desert island for the U.S. soldiers marooned there, cut off from the outside world by protesters' barricades since April last year.

    The protesters only let South Korean soldiers through, but no materials or equipment, so the American soldiers have to be helicoptered in and out. Their mission is to keep the THAAD's radar working with an emergency generator running on airlifted fuel. Some 340 liters of jet fuel is needed to operate the 1.3 MW generator for an hour, and it cannot be run for too long.

    The radar is therefore turned off at normal times but turned on whenever there is a sign of North Korea preparing to fire a missile or just to keep it in working order.

    Currently, only a single THAAD battery with six launch pads, an AN/TPY-2 radar and the generator are deployed in Seongju. But the reserve stock of missiles and 48 anti-ballistic interceptor missiles are still kept at Camp Carroll in Waegwan, North Gyeongsang Province.

    "There's no problem in the THAAD system detecting and intercepting any ballistic missile from North Korea, despite the temporary deployment of only a single THAAD battery," a military spokesman said on Thursday.

    Protesters stage a sit-in in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province on Thursday.

    But no construction can be carried out to make the soldiers crowded together at the old golf clubhouse more comfortable, to say nothing of launch pad reinforcement work or paving of roads in the compound.

    About 400 Korean and U.S. soldiers are crowded together at the old golf club facilities. U.S. soldiers are rotated every two weeks and South Korean soldiers every four to five months.

    With no kitchen service and only with limited food supplies, the U.S. soldiers eat combat rations three times a day, and are getting increasingly frustrated.

    The former golf clubhouse is small and the toilets are frequently blocked as the facility was designed for only 150 people. Many soldiers sleep on cots in a storage room or the hallway. The ceiling is leaky and mildewed.

    "Sanitary conditions will get much poorer once the rainy season starts," the military spokesman added. "We're worried that soldiers could suffer from respiratory diseases." A source said, "It's hard for the U.S. soldiers to understand why civilians, not the authorities, are controlling the access to the THAAD site."

    "They have come to doubt that the South Korean government has any interest in deploying the THAAD batteries at all as they watch the police unable or unwilling to disperse a mere 100 to 200 protesters," another source said.

    U.S. Forces Korea Commander Vincent Brooks (left) and other officers look at anti-ballistic missiles at Camp Carroll in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province last week. /Courtesy of the U.S. Forces Korea

    The government says it will make a final decision on the permanent THAAD deployment depending on the results of an environmental study of the entire 700,000 sq.m. THAAD site that the previous administration tried to skip.

    But the assessment has yet to start.

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