SEOUL, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. military in South Korea imported samples of anthrax 15 times since 2009 – contradicting a previous statement that anthrax was not being retained at a military base outside Seoul prior to April, when a shipment exposed as many as 22 people.
"We confirmed that U.S. Forces Korea imported inactivated Bacillus anthracis test samples as well as inactivated Yersinia pestis samples for detection and identification training," said Maj. Gen. Chang Kyung-soo, director general for policy planning at South Korea's Defense Ministry.
Chang also said that between 2009 and 2014, anthrax was shipped to the base 15 times, contradicting a Korean-language statement from USFK that stated the April incident was the "first-ever exercise aimed at ramping up capabilities."
South Korean news network YTN reported Friday USFK said the samples were shipped to defend against a possible North Korea attack. Pyongyang has at least 13 kinds of biological weapons, according to a joint statement from Chang and Robert Hedelund, the USFK's chief planner.
The clandestine shipment of U.S. anthrax on April 29 has been the center of controversy in South Korea, after it was confirmed 22 people were infected in an accident. U.S. forces had conducted two experiments with the sample.
Joint U.S.-South Korea investigations began in May, and the governor of Gyeonggi province decided to send an independent bacteria expert in July for further investigations after activists called for stricter control of agents being brought into the country through U.S. military channels.
Chang and Hedelund said in their joint statement all shipments of anthrax have been stopped until problems are resolved, and there is to be no additional testing of anthrax samples in Korea, Yonhap reported.
The United States and South Korea annually conduct a military exercise, Key Resolve, that trains forces in the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, South Korean newspaper Asia Business reported. The United States retains a special operations force that is focused on WMD removal.
As a result of the investigations, South Korea customs can now contact USFK to request coordination on package inspections, the Korea Herald reported.