Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Homemade bombs known as IEDs appear to be North Korea’s latest weapon in its decades-long conflict with South Korea, the U.S. commander in Seoul said Tuesday.

Army Gen. Walter L. “Skip” Sharp said missiles and long-range artillery that could hit the South Korean capital remain the top threat posed by the North’s reclusive regime.

But he said Pyongyang was turning to newer military means, such as improvised explosive devices left on roadsides, that have forced U.S. troops to “make sure we’re leaning the lessons out of Iraq and Afghanistan with IEDs and other types of devices.”

“I’m confident that they will use those capabilities,” Gen. Sharp told military reporters Tuesday.

He added: “I think that the North Koreans probably realize that they could not win in a normal, conventional all-out attack - you know, reunify the peninsula by force. … That’s a nonstarter.”

He said South Korea also has set up a headquarters to protect its cybersecurity from North Korean intrusions.

Still, North Korea’s artillery - some of which Gen. Sharp said are “located right on the DMZ,” or demilitarized zone that separates the two nations - continues to pose the most grave threat to the South. He said Seoul recently bought long-range Patriot defense missiles from Germany to counter threats from the North.

The two Koreas technically remain at war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce in 1953, not a peace treaty.

In July, North Korea test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast, marking a show of force that defied U.N. resolutions and drew international condemnation. It has also tested two atomic bombs.

Mr. Sharp also said the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il remains in charge, despite reports of his failing health. Mr. Kim has been seen out in public far more this year than in 2008, despite appearing thinner and suffering from paralysis in one arm.

He said there’s no indication that Mr. Kim’s 26-year-old son, Jong-un, has taken over, although “there’s some grooming going on. And we’ll see how long he has to groom.”

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