(Stars and Stripes)

Two South Korean soldiers apparently suffocated during an exercise meant to prepare them for capture by the enemy, Korean military officials said Wednesday.

Citing the spokesman, The New York Times reported Wednesday that the two soldiers, both staff sergeants in a special forces unit, died late Tuesday at their base in Jeungpyeong, about 60 miles southeast of Seoul. Names were not released, but the spokesman, who requested anonymity, said the soldiers were in their early 20s.

“Doctors say suffocation appears to be to blame for the deaths, while an investigation is under way into the exact cause of their deaths and exactly what happened to them,” said Korean Army spokesman Choi Yong-han, according to a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Yonhap wrote that although the army said no physical assaults or torture took place during the training, it admitted to the leadership’s failure “to properly manage the intensive and dangerous training.”

“In the past, the Command had carried out such training, but it was suspended for unidentified reasons. Upon the order of the commander, however, the special forces were to resume the exercise this year,” Choi said, as reported by Yonhap.

The training exercise was meant to enhance soldiers’ endurance should they be taken prisoner, the Times noted. The soldiers were required to kneel with hoods over their heads and their hands tied behind their backs. Trainers realized the exercise was going wrong when another soldier, who was later hospitalized, screamed and flailed his legs, the spokesman said.

He said the military was investigating the deaths, with a particular focus on whether the training had been properly supervised.

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