(From Reuters)

By James Pearson

CHEORWON, South Korea–There’s more to do in South Korea’s heavily forested Rocket Valley, just a few miles from the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, than fire rockets. In quieter times, people tend vegetable patches along ice-cold streams.

US and South Korean marines practice landing exercises in Pohang on March 7.
US and South Korean marines practice landing exercises in Pohang on March 7.

But on Wednesday, a U.S. artillery brigade based in the South heated things up, launching a barrage of rockets close to the border town of Cheorwon.

The live-fire drills came hours after a report by reclusive North Korea that it had miniaturized nuclear warheads to be mounted on ballistic missiles and leader Kim Jong Un had ordered further improvements to its arsenal.

Tension in the region was already high as South Korean and U.S. troops began large-scale military exercises on Monday in a test of their defenses against North Korea, which called the drills “nuclear war moves” and threatened to respond with an all-out offensive.

The U.N. Security Council imposed harsh new sanctions on North Korea last week for its Jan. 6 nuclear test. The North launched a long-range rocket a month later, drawing international criticism and sanctions from South Korea.

The drills in Rocket Valley were separate to the annual joint U.S.-South Korean maneuvers which involve about 17,000 U.S. troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

They were a test of the U.S. Army M270A1 system, a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) built by Lockheed Martin that can fire 12 rounds and re-load and move at 64 km (40 miles) per hour. Read more

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