SEOUL, March 24 (Yonhap) -- The militaries of South Korea and the United States said Sunday they have worked out a new joint operational plan that details how they should cooperate to deal with North Korean provocations.
The Combined Counter-Provocation Plan, signed between South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Jung Seung-jo and Gen. James Thurman, the commander of the U.S. Forces in South Korea, went into effect immediately.
"By completing this plan, we improved our combined readiness posture to allow us to immediately and decisively respond to any North Korean provocation," the Combined Forces Command (CFC) of the two allies said in a statement. "The completed plan includes procedures for consultation and action to allow for a strong and decisive combined Republic of Korea-U.S. response to North Korean provocations and threats."
The allies have been working on the plan since 2010 when North Korea torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan and bombarded the South's border island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea. A total of 50 South Koreans, 48 of them soldiers, were killed.
The need to strengthen military cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. has gained new urgency amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following a series of North Korean military provocations.
North Korea has recently been ratcheting up war rhetoric almost daily in response to new U.N. sanctions for its third nuclear test in February and recent joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises which it denounced as invasion preparations.
Gen. Jung said the North's military threats are for real.
"We are ready to sternly retaliate North Korea's provocations as this plan was completed," he said. "This plan allows South Korean and U.S. forces to respond more strongly than when they had separate plans."
According to the new plan, South Korea's military is set to play a more active role in taking any counteractions against "the origin of North Korean provocation and surrounding forces in the first stage."
If North Korean provocations escalate, the U.S. will provide reinforcements from within and outside of South Korea, including Japan and elsewhere in the region under the control of the U.S. Pacific Command, South Korean military officials said.
Previously, South Korean forces were solely in charge of any actions against North Korean provocations, while the U.S military would come to the aid of South Korea only when a full-scale war erupts, they said.
"The South Korean military's operational plan now calls for striking the origin of the enemy's provocation and supporting and command forces," a senior South Korean defense ministry official said. "Depending on the type of provocations and operational circumstance, the U.S. with its weapons can strike North Korean territories."
After the two deadly North Korean attacks in 2010, South Korea has made clear that it will not hesitate to strike back the origin of any attack for self-defense.
About 28,500 American forces are currently stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.