Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
North Korean Soldier Who Defected Used A Vehicle To Escape Under Hail Of Gunfire
A North Korean soldier defected to the South by driving a military jeep to the line that divides the peninsula, then sprinting across it under a hail of gunfire from his former comrades, officials said Tuesday.
The stunning escape in a jointly secured area of the Demilitarized Zone happened at a time of high tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, raising fears the communist state could conduct a provocation after a two-month lull in missile-testing activity.
The soldier was airlifted to a hospital south of Seoul after he was found bleeding under a pile of leaves Monday in the truce village of Panmunjom, the only point in the DMZ where both sides come face to face. He was reportedly in critical condition.
It was the first shooting in the Joint Security Area since 1984, but U.S. and South Korean forces did not return fire.
More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the 1950-53 war, but it’s rare for soldiers to flee across the DMZ, much less the JSA.
North Korea has not commented on the shooting, but it usually responds angrily to defections and often accuses South Korea of kidnapping its citizens.
The defection came less than a week after President Donald Trump made his first official visit to South Korea amid soaring tensions over the growing nuclear and missile threat from the North.
The U.S.-led United Nations Command, which oversees the South Korean side of the JSA, said the defector drove the jeep near the de facto border line.
“He then exited the vehicle and continued fleeing south across the line as he was fired upon by other soldiers from North Korea,” it said in a statement. “The individual initially took cover near a building on the southern side of the JSA.”U.S. and South Korean forces recovered him at about 4 p.m., then took him to Ajou University Medical Center south of Seoul, along with a UNC security escort and translator, it said.
Col. Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military first became aware of the situation around 3:31 p.m.
The soldier sped toward a guard post, but the vehicle’s wheels got stuck in a ditch, Roh told reporters. “We closely monitored the situation with a surveillance system,” he said.
The soldier was found under a pile of leaves, Roh said, adding he was in uniform but unarmed. No U.S. or South Korean troops were injured.
Separately, Suh Wook, a senior JCS official, told lawmakers that Seoul's military believes four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 shots toward the defector, who appeared to have been hit at least five times.
Lee Guk-jong, a doctor at the hospital, said the soldier suffered serious injuries and was in critical condition. The next 10 days will be crucial for his recovery, Lee was quoted as saying by the Yonhap News Agency.
South Korea’s military said it has strengthened its vigilance and readiness posture in case of a possible military provocation by the North.
The DMZ is a 2.5-mile wide, 150-mile-long buffer zone lined with barbed wire and dotted with landmines. The JSA provides the adversaries with a neutral zone and has been the site of past dialogue.
The 1953 armistice that ended the fighting but left the countries technically at war was signed in one of the blue buildings that straddle the Military Demarcation Line. It’s also a popular stop for tourists and dignitaries, including several U.S. presidents.
Trump tried to make a surprise visit to the DMZ last week, but his helicopter was forced to turn back to Seoul after heavy fog prevented it from landing at the frontier.
Violence has broken out in the area in the past. In 1984, a Soviet tourist sprinted across the demarcation line from North Korea in a bid to defect, prompting a gun battle that killed and wounded several soldiers from both sides.
The Unification Ministry said North Korean soldiers also defected across the JSA in 2007 and 1998, but military officials said no shooting occurred during those incidents.
Two American soldiers also were killed in the DMZ by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers in a 1976 brawl over an attempt to trim a poplar tree. That prompted Washington to send nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to intimidate the North before the adversaries pulled back from the brink of conflict.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Military.com.
Inside Forward Operating Base Oqab in Kabul, Afghanistan stands a wall painted with a mural of an airman kneeling before a battlefield cross. Beneath it, a black gravestone bookended with flowers and dangling dog tags displays the names of eight U.S. airmen and an American contractor killed in a horrific insider attack at Kabul International Airport in 2011.
It's one of a number of such memorials ranging from plaques, murals and concrete T-walls scattered across Afghanistan. For the last eight years, those tributes have been proof to the families of the fallen that their loved ones have not been forgotten. But with a final U.S. pullout from Afghanistan possibly imminent, those families fear the combat-zone memorials may be lost for good.
After a string of high profile incidents, the commander overseeing the Navy SEALs released an all hands memo stating that the elite Naval Special Warfare community has a discipline problem, and pinned the blame on those who place loyalty to their teammates over the Navy and the nation they serve.
A group of vets are raising money to pay for a medal the Iraqi government awarded them, but never delivered
In June 2011 Iraq's defense minister announced that U.S. troops who had deployed to the country would receive the Iraq Commitment Medal in recognition of their service. Eight years later, millions of qualified veterans have yet to receive it.
The reason: The Iraqi government has so far failed to provide the medals to the Department of Defense for approval and distribution.
A small group of veterans hopes to change that.
For a cool $8.5 million, you could be the proud owner of a "fully functioning" F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon fighter jet that a South Florida company acquired from Jordan.
The combat aircraft, which can hit a top speed of 1,357 mph at 40,000 feet, isn't showroom new — it was built in 1980. But it still has a max range of 2,400 miles and an initial climb rate of 62,000 feet per minute and remains militarized, according to The Drive, an automotive website that also covers defense topics, WBDO News 96.5 reported Wednesday.