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Taiwan's Marine 'Iron Force' sent to Dongsha Islands ahead of PLA invasion drill

Marine garrison on Dongsha Islands reinforced, Taiwanese military 'prepared for worst'

99th Marine Brigade troops. (Military News Agency)

99th Marine Brigade troops. (Military News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In response to news that China is allegedly planning a simulated invasion of the Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands, 東沙群島) this month, Taiwan's military has reportedly dispatched more Marines to the atolls to bolster their defenses.

On Monday (Aug. 3), Kyodo News cited PLA National Defense University professor Li Daguang (李大光) as saying in Hong Kong’s Bauhinia Magazine that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will stage a landing exercise on China's Hainan Island to simulate an invasion of the Dongsha Islands.

Although Li later denied this, claiming he had instead been referring to an article published earlier by Kyodo News, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) has been on alert since reports surfaced in May saying the PLA is planning such a mock invasion, with state-run mouthpiece the Global Times even warning it could become a real invasion.

CommonWealth Magazine on July 30 cited Democratic Progressive Party legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) as saying that the Marine Corps has sent additional companies of troops to help defend the Dongsha Islands and that the armed forces are "prepared for the worst." Wang said that if enemy forces capture the Dongsha Islands, the military has drafted a "Border Protection Battle Plan" in which Army airborne special operations forces would combine with the Marines to mount a counterattack by sea and air from Taiwan's Taiping Island (Itu Aba).

Wang told the magazine that in May, the 99th Marine Brigade, nicknamed the "Iron Force," was deployed to the Dongsha Islands for the first time in 20 years. He said the brigade is a defense force trained by the U.S. military to defend against landings and airborne assaults with the operating principle of "doing the most with the least."

He pointed out that the terrain on the islands is flat and difficult to defend, thus the military has drafted a worst-case-scenario plan. According to the plan, Navy would send a special task force carrying a battalion of Marines to Taiping Island to commence amphibious landing operations and cooperate with the Air Force, utilizing C-130 transport planes to deploy special forces units via airdrop or tactical landing to reinforce Taiping.

Wang revealed that the strategy is to use Taiping Island as a staging area for a counterattack on enemy forces on the Dongsha Islands. In response to Wang's statements, the MND on Sunday morning (Aug. 2) announced that given the current situation around Taiwan proper and the South China Sea, the armed forces are keeping a close eye on Chinese military activity through joint intelligence surveillance to "ensure national sovereignty and territorial security."