By Lee Tae-hoon
The military is seeking to boost its number of marines by as many as 2,000, as part of ongoing defense reform and efforts to strengthen its defense capability on five islands near the inter-Korean maritime border in the West Sea, a government official said Tuesday.
South Korea has been bolstering its military presence and deploying new weapons on the five islands in the wake of North Korea’s deadly artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
North Korea’s surprise artillery bombardment on November 23 killed two marines and two civilians.
“The military initially planned to increase the number of marines by about 1,200,” the official said asking for anonymity.
“However, it is now reviewing increasing the number by 1,500 to 2,000."
Currently, the total number of marines stands at some 27,000, or 0.42 percent of the nation’s 650,000 strong armed forces.
Military sources say new marines will be assigned to the new West Sea Command, which will be dedicated to defending the five islands near the near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed inter-Korea maritime demarcation line.
Pyongyang does not recognize the NLL as the maritime border, claiming it was drawn up unilaterally by the U.N. Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Sources say the new command is scheduled to be created in April.
The Ministry of National Defense is expected to report the restructuring plan to Cheong Wa Dae this month.
Currently, the Army has some 520,000 soldiers while the Navy, which includes the marines, has 68,000 personnel and the Air Force, 65,000.