S. Korea in internal review on seat of allied command
SEOUL-- South Korea's new government is reviewing details of a deal with the United States on the seat of the Combined Forces Command (CFC), government sources said Monday.
But they stressed the liberal Moon Jae-in administration is not seeking to reverse the 2014 agreement itself to let the headquarters of the command stay at the Yongsan Base in central Seoul even after other U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) troops relocate to a refurbished base in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of the capital.
The 8th Army and most other USFK components are scheduled to move to Camp Humphreys by the end of this year. The Yongsan Garrison site will be turned into a family park.
The allies had planned to disband the CFC, which has long served as a core element of their joint combat posture, with a transition of wartime operational control (OPCON) slated for the end of 2015.
In 2014, however, South Korea and the U.S. agreed to push for a "conditions-based" OPCON transfer, effectively delaying it indefinitely and keeping the CFC alive.
At that time, the U.S. expressed hope that the CFC will remain in Seoul despite the base relocation. It cited the need for seamless coordination with South Korea's Ministry of National Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of which are situated in the Yongsan district.
The ministry recently briefed Moon's office Cheong Wa Dae on the related agreement, as the president's campaign pledges include the completion of the long-delayed OPCON transition within his five-year tenure, according to the sources.
An official from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae later confirmed the presidential office was recently briefed on the issue.
However, the official dismissed earlier reports that suggested Cheong Wa Dae has asked, if not ordered, the relocation of the CFC headquarters as well.
"A restoration project is now under way to connect Cheong Wa Dae to Yongsan in a historic, cultural belt," the official told reporters, while speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The government needed to understand related issues while moving forward the project, and so asked (the defense ministry) to report what the current situation was. But the occasion was in no way aimed at making any decisions," he added.
"Inter-agency discussions are under way on the scope of the CFC's facilities and personnel to remain at the Yongsan Base," a source said.
The CFC, established in 1978, is currently led by the USFK commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks. The CFC will have OPCON over 620,000-strong, active-duty South Korean troops in the event of a war on the peninsula.
Moon's plan to speed up the OPCON transfer process leaves the CFC's future hanging in the balance.
It's a divisive issue here. Some say South Korea's military should reduce its reliance on the U.S. troops, while others point out the alliance will weaken if the CFC is disbanded.
Source: Yonhap News Agency