SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea mobilized hundreds of troops, tanks, helicopters and jet fighters today for a massive military exercise aimed at sending North Korea a message of strength amid high tensions on the peninsula.
The firing drills set for later in the day near the Koreas' heavily armed land border signaled that South Korea is willing to risk further escalating tensions with North Korea, which shelled a southern island off the Koreas' western coast on Nov. 23, killing two South Korean civilians and two troops and stirring fears of war.
The attack was portrayed by Pyongyang as a retaliation for southern military exercises on Yeonpyeong island that day.
South Korea has conducted 47 military drills this year similar to the one planned for today. Today's drill will be the biggest-ever wintertime joint firing exercise that South Korea's army and air force have staged, an army statement said.
"We will completely punish the enemy if it provokes us again like the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island," Brig. Gen. Ju Eun Sik, chief of the army's 1st Armored Brigade, said separately.
South Korean forces are on high alert even though the North backed down from its threat to again retaliate over a separate firing drill the South held Monday on Yeonpyeong in disputed western waters.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since their 1950s conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. The past month's military tension, however, has been the worst in several years.