Rocket-Fire Traded Between North and South Korea

South Korea Troops

South Korean troops and U.S. troops conducting drills in late June 2015/photo courtesy of Department of Defense

Rocket-Fire Traded Between North and South Korea
| published August 20, 2015 |

By Keith H. Roberts Thursday Review contributor

A war of words over loudspeakers may have triggered rocket-fire, with missiles fired back in retaliation in what may be only a minor skirmish over propaganda broadcasts on the Korean peninsula.

Early Thursday, South Korean officials reported that several rockets were fired from the northern side of the heavily fortified DMZ toward targets in the south. South Korean military officials say they were able to pinpoint the location where the rockets were fired, and in return, lobbed several missiles back into North Korea. Between 90 and 100 residents of the tiny town of Yeoncheon were evacuated by authorities, and—according to officials in the South Korean media—another 2000 civilians were evacuated from other villages and towns along the border, especially where other loudspeakers are located.

The target of North Korea’s wrath may have been a massive set of loudspeakers located near the border between the two Koreas, and not far from Yeoncheon. In response to landmines placed near the fence-line within the DMZ, two of which maimed or injured South Korean soldiers earlier in August, South Korean military officials resumed the use of high-powered loudspeakers along the border—speakers which broadcast pro-Seoul, anti-Pyongyang messages into North Korea. The speakers were installed decades ago, but were shut down 11 years ago.

The landmine incident injured several soldiers, one of whom lost both legs, and another who lost one leg. North Korea said that South Korean officials fabricated the episode, and has repeatedly demanded that Seoul provide video or photographic evidence. Much of the DMZ is under constant surveillance through the use of video cameras and other recording devices, and patrols by South Korean or U.S. troops along the South Korean side of the DZM are routine. Concern has mounted in South Korean and American military circles that the North may have deliberately planted dozens—possibly hundreds—of landmines along certain sections of the DMZ to inhibit these regular foot patrols and inspections of the border fence.

Shortly after the loudspeakers were turned on in retaliation for the landmine incident, Pyongyang issued a demand that the broadcasts stop. North Korean officials called the broadcasts an act of war, and last weekend threatened harsh military retribution if the speakers were not turned off. North Korea may have made good on its promise of military action by firing missiles and anti-aircraft guns in the direction of the speakers. South Korea says it fired back, using 155-milimeter artillery shells. According to preliminary reports, there have been no casualties and no injuries. Still, South Korea has raised all its military personnel onto it highest alert status.

The North has also complained that recent joint military drills involving South Korean forces and U.S. troops represent a prelude to an allied invasion of the north. The drills are held every year, and each year Pyongyang issues threats to the south. This year, however, the rhetoric from the Kim regime has grown even more shrill, and tensions along the DMZ have increased measurably.

The North has already retaliated for the loudspeakers by reinitiating its own campaign of loudspeakers aimed at the south. Combined with the firing of shells and rockets back and forth across the heavily militarized border, some analysts in the United States worry that this new round of tensions could spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, officials in the South say that they will meet every challenge and provocation by the North directly and swiftly.

Related Thursday Review articles:

N. Korea Changes Time Zones, Threatens War; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; August 16, 2015.