April 25 (UPI) — The U.S. military moved equipment for a missile defense system to its designated site in central South Korea, but the overnight transfer of THAAD to Seongju County was met with opposition from local residents and religious groups.
THAAD parts are arriving at the site, 51 days after its road-mobile launchers were delivered to Osan Air Base on the C-17 carrier, a large military transport aircraft, Yonhap reported Wednesday, local time.
The relocation of equipment comes earlier than expected and before completed environmental inspections.
Last week, the South Korean military had announced a round of environmental assessments and estimated the inspection would take about 30 days.
“The move [on Wednesday] was made to secure some operational capability of what is available of the THAAD system,” Seoul’s defense ministry said.
The relocation of the equipment by U.S. Forces Korea also took place early Wednesday to attract the least possible attention from local activists.
The move that occurred between 4:42 and 7 a.m., however, drew a crowd of about 200 protesters who gathered as 20 military trucks hauling interceptor missiles, a radar, generators and coolers began to arrive at the golf course in Seongju, according to Yonhap.
A South Korean military official who spoke anonymously said two mobile launchers had arrived at the site, but could not confirm whether the “remaining four” had been delivered.
One THAAD unit typically includes six launchers, and the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, subordinate to the U.S. Eighth Army, would operate the system.
About 8,000 South Korean police were deployed to secure the roads to the site, and to prevent protesters from blocking transportation.
According to the report, six local residents were injured while clashing with police.
A South Korean Buddhist sect representative said some members of his group were “dragged away,” local newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported.
Other activists said the deployment was taking place without consensus, according to the report.