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U.S. 8th Army command to remain stationed in Korea

Plan to move to Hawaii put on ice as strategy changes  PLAY AUDIO

Nov 06,2009
The U.S. Eighth Army headquarters, the commanding unit of all U.S. Army forces stationed here, has reversed its relocation plans and will stay put in Seoul, the JoongAng Ilbo has learned.

Also, documents show the U.S. military will establish a new command in South Korea to replace the current U.S.-South Korea combined forces command after the wartime operational control is transferred to South Korea in 2012.

According to a high-ranking military source, the headquarters will not move to Hawaii as previously announced. Also, documents obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo show that a new Korea Command unit will be set up next June to replace the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command in 2012.

A four-star general will be at the helm of the Korea Command, which is expected to join six other unified combat commands for U.S. forces, the documents show.

Currently the United States operates military commands, composed of forces from at least two services, covering Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, Central America and North America. The Korea Command will be responsible for Northeast Asia.

Once Americans’ wartime operational control of South Korean troops is transferred to Seoul, the Korea Command unit will be tasked with defending the peninsula along with the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. The capabilities of the Korea Command will be tested in drills in 2011 and 2012.

The documents said that in emergencies, the Korea Command will control operations of U.S. forces in Korea, U.S. reinforcements and some United Nations troops.

In carrying out operations, the Korea Command will follow strategic guidelines determined by heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from South Korea and the United States.

According to the documents, the U.S. Department of Defense plans to reorganize the Eighth Army headquarters, which currently provide administrative support only, and turn it into a combat commanding unit. The U.S. Army will add about 200 troops to the current Eighth Army headquarters.

Another military source said the U.S. Army has set up a new operational command post earlier this year near the front line. The source explained that the move “was designed to ensure more efficiency in ground operations in the Korean Peninsula.”

The post will include more than 1,000 officers and soldiers and will be evaluated in early 2010 and then in early 2011.

The size of the U.S. forces stationed in Korea will be kept at around 28,500. Once the new U.S. forces base is completed in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, in 2015, the current Eighth Army headquarters and the second infantry division in Yongsan, central Seoul, will be relocated there. The Pyeongtaek base is expected to host up to 71,000 U.S. troops and their families by 2020.

The U.S. about-face on its plan to move the headquarters to Hawaii reflects the strategic importance of the Korean Peninsula to the United States. Setting up the Korea Command would also attest to the strategic place Korea occupies in U.S. military planning.

These moves can be traced back to this year’s Security Consultative Meeting between the United States and South Korea held here in October. Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, spelled out specific security assurances for the U.S. ally, saying the United States would provide “extended deterrence” for the South and Washington would be willing to mobilize U.S. troops around the world to protect the Korean Peninsula.

General Walter Sharp, the commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea, had apparently sensed this sentiment in Washington and had asked since the beginning of the year that the Eighth Army command remain in Seoul.

Construction of the Pyeongtaek base may also have played a role in the U.S. military’s decision, since it could serve as the regional operational hub for the U.S. forces. The Pyeongtaek base will be equipped with the latest technology.

Also, it is only 10 kilometers (16 miles) away from the Osan Air Base, home of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, and just 15 kilometers from the Pyeongtaek Port and the South Korean Navy’s Second Fleet Command.

Theoretically, the U.S. forces based in Pyeongtaek could use their Osan Air Base to deploy reinforcements and receive supplies and munitions at the Pyeongtaek Port. The new base will give the United States strategic flexibility for its overseas forces.


By Kim Min-seok [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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