A South Korean soldier stands guard in the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone as a North Korean soldier snaps a photograph, Nov. 2, 2015.

A South Korean soldier stands guard in the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone as a North Korean soldier snaps a photograph, Nov. 2, 2015. (Dominique Pineiro/U.S. Navy)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The U.N. Command is launching an investigation into the North Korean drone incursion that prompted South Korea’s military to reassess its defensive capabilities.

The command assembled a special investigative team to look into the incident, command spokeswoman Jacqueline Leeker said in an email Thursday. She said the command “will not provide any further comments or statements until the investigation is complete.”

The statement comes after five North Korean drones were discovered flying in South Korean airspace in northern Seoul and over its western coast on Monday. 

South Korea’s military scrambled aircraft to intercept the small drones, which flew in its territory for roughly five hours, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A military helicopter fired around 100 rounds from a machine gun but failed to bring down a drone. None of the drones were captured.

The same day, South Korea sent three of its own reconnaissance drones north of the border to surveil North Korean installations, according to the Ministry of National Defense.

The Joint Chiefs apologized Thursday for failing to bring down the drones and announced sweeping changes in its ranks, including the creation of a specialized military unit to combat drones.

“Our forces were not able to detect and identify drones when enemies committed provocations in the past; however, we detected and tracked the enemy drones this time,” the Joint Chiefs said in a statement. “But we are sorry that we couldn’t effectively shoot down the enemy drones, which were identified by the naked eye, in time.”

North Korea’s state-run media as of Friday had yet to comment on its drone activity. Previously, North Korean drones entered South Korea as recently as 2017, when one was found crashed on a mountain in Gangwon province.

The U.N. Command’s involvement highlights its role in enforcing the armistice agreement between the two Koreas. Suspected violations of the agreement, regardless of country, are investigated by the command’s Military Armistice Commission and its findings are relayed to the appropriate party, including the North’s Korean People’s Army, according to the U.N. Command’s website.

The command assembled an investigative team in 2020, after North and South Korean troops exchanged gunfire from guard posts at the Demilitarized Zone. Its investigation concluded that Pyongyang and Seoul both violated the armistice agreement.

The command, headquartered at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek city, is the U.N.’s multinational force created to support South Korea following the 1950-53 Korean War. The command is supported by 22 nations and oversees security at the DMZ.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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