SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States carried out more combined marine exercises in 2019 than in previous years, the Marine Corps said Tuesday.
The allies conducted 24 rounds of the Korea Marine Exercise Program (KMEP) this year, up from 11 in 2018 and 17 in 2017, the service said in a report presented to the National Assembly for an audit.
Next year, the two sides are planning to hold 22 rounds of the KMEP drills, it added. The exercise is designed to bolster defense of South Korea's northwestern border islands.
The Marine Corps is also pushing to expand its presence in U.S.-led international exercises starting next year by sending more marines to the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in Hawaii and the Cobra Gold exercise staged in Thailand.
It also plans to join additional U.S.-led marine exercises such as those held in Australia and the Philippines, starting in 2021, according to the Marine Corps.
"By staging various joint exercises, we will be capable of further developing our combined operation system and maximizing capabilities to carry out missions together," Marine Corps commandant Lt. Gen. Lee Seung-do said.
In order to better defend strategic islands and to cope with potential threats, the armed service has carried out drills on the island of Ulleung in the East Sea around three times each year. Ulleung Island lies just around 90 kilometers west of the country's easternmost islets of Dokdo.
"We are pushing to create an 'Ulleung military unit' with mid to longer-term perspectives," the Marine Corps said.
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