The US Forces in Korea (USFK) have transported four additional THAAD rocket launchers into its new base in Seongju despite fierce protests by local residents.
The South Korean defense ministry has announced that the deployment has been completed in a ‘tentative’ step to counter urgent threats posed by North Korea, Yonhap reported Thursday.
Thousands of police were mobilized to help clear the way for a convoy of USFK vehicles carrying the launchers, construction and other related materials.
"(The allies) completed the tentative deployment of the THAAD system today, as (they) agreed to additionally deploy the four remaining launchers," the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
It's part of measures to protect the life and security of the people from the North's ever-improving nuclear and missile programs, added the ministry.
Ministry officials pointed out that USFK will have the capability to operate a THAAD battery by adding the four truck-mounted launchers to the two others already in place at the Seongju site.
In April, a powerful X-band radar station, along with a fire control and communications unit, was also installed at the former golf course. A THAAD battery is known to require at least six rocket launchers. THAAD is the acronym for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense.
"The battery will be operational as soon as the U.S. finishes its internal procedures," the ministry's spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said at a press briefing. He would not predict when the whole battery will be ready to intercept North Korean missiles.
USFK officials also confirmed that the four launchers have been installed under the "existing alliance decision."
The South Korean ministry made it clear that the decision of whether to permanently deploy the THAAD equipment in the country will depend on the results of a "thorough and fair" environmental impact assessment.
It added it will hold consultations with "relevant" neighboring countries on the THAAD issue.
It was apparently referring to China and Russia, which have strongly protested the allies' move. They claim the U.S. THAAD system on the peninsula will further destabilize regional security and will be used to expand Washington's military influence.
A defense source said Seoul informed Beijing of the plan for the installation of the four launchers in advance.
The THAAD deployment came some 14 months after Seoul and Washington agreed to put the high-profile system on the peninsula.
South Koreans are split over whether it's needed here and if the government, especially the former administration of Park Geun-hye, has been transparent in handling the matter.
They are also concerned that electromagnetic waves emanating from the cutting-edge radar could cause health and environmental problems.
Trying to block the entry of the THAAD equipment, hundreds of people clashed with police.
President Moon Jae-in ordered the deployment of the remaining THAAD launchers soon after Pyongyang launched a second intercontinental ballistic missile in late July.
On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in further defiance of the U.N. Security Council resolutions and other international rules.