By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) — The military will overhaul an infantry division in charge of guarding the heavily fortified border separating South and North Korea, the defense ministry said Tuesday, following a series of security failures in the eastern region.
Officials from the ministry, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army will soon visit the 22nd infantry division in the eastern border town of Goseong to assess the unit “from a perspective of reorganization and operation,” according to the ministry.
The division has come under fire after a North Korean man swam ashore in the South undetected last month. He was caught on the military surveillance cameras 10 times, but soldiers failed to notice eight of them even after alarm bells rang.
The man was eventually captured inside a restricted area north of the Civilian Control Line following an hourslong manhunt.
Defense Minister Suh Wook has apologized over the security lapse, citing faults from the troops who were on guard duty, but there has also been criticism of the military leadership over its failure to properly structure the unit whose responsibility includes both front-line and coastal security.
The 22nd division’s area of responsibility includes 30 kilometers of land and 70 kilometers of water, whereas that of other divisions in charge of guarding the border area ranges from 25 to 40 km.
In November, another North Korean civilian crossed the border undeterred and was found, also in the town of Goseong, in a suspected defection attempt.
“We will look into the possible impact of the planned defense reform on its future mission capabilities and come up with a plan to optimize the unit’s structure and organization,” ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan said during a regular press briefing, referring to the country’s push to make the military “smaller and stronger.”
On possible disciplinary actions for personnel from the division, Boo said the military will decide after a comprehensive review of its security system and their mission performance.