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USFK pledges cooperation for return of land

Sept 05,2019
The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Tuesday pledged its cooperation to expedite the return of land used for U.S. military bases back into the Korean government’s control, according to Yonhap News.

The statement, received by Yonhap, stands as a show of support from Washington for the Blue House’s announcement last Friday that it intends to speed up the relocation of 26 U.S. military bases across the country to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and Daegu and take custody of the land occupied by the bases earlier than scheduled.

“We are aware of the ROK government’s decision to expedite the return process of U.S. installations announced on Friday (Aug. 30),” the statement read, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.

“We respect their decision and remain committed to cooperating with the ROK government to enable the return of U.S. installations to the ROK public and local communities as expeditiously as possible.”

Chief among the bases to be relocated is the Combined Forces Command (CFC) at the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul, which Korean defense officials said Sunday would be moved to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek by 2021. While the relocation had been forewarned in a meeting between Washington and Seoul’s defense chiefs in June, the decision to accelerate the move may be closely linked to Korea’s plans to assume wartime operational control of the combined allied forces on its territory by 2022.

The remaining 26 bases in question are part of a larger deal that Korea and the United States agreed to in May 2003 to relocate 80 U.S. Army bases across the country to Pyeongtaek and Daegu. As part of the agreement, the USFK and United Nations Command moved their headquarters to Camp Humphreys in June 2018.

This positive response from the USFK on the expedited moves contrasts with concerns raised by some analysts that the early base relocation signals growing distance in the allies’ relationship, which is already strained by a variety of ongoing issues.

Seoul’s decision to withdraw from an intelligence sharing pact with Japan last month prompted heavy pushback from Washington officials, all the while U.S. President Donald Trump has been calling for Korea to pay a larger financial contribution for the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula.

Korea’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday stressed that its decision on the early relocation of the bases was reached after consultations and agreement with the U.S. government.

In an interview with the U.S.-based Voice of America, former USFK commander Gen. Vincent Brooks noted that where and how to accommodate the CFC headquarters was completely in the Korean government’s hands, but its decision to speed up the process surprised him.

Brooks, who led the CFC and the USFK from April 2016 to Nov. 2018, cast doubt on the feasibility of a expedited timeline for the move, saying Seoul may be unable to handle the logistical issues surrounding the project.

“If South Korea wants those bases now, they are going to be responsible for mitigating contaminated soil at those bases,” he said. “But otherwise we are going to continue with the timeline.”

In addition to the construction of new facilities at Pyeongtaek, Brooks said this question of “environmental remediation” at the 26 current bases would take several more years beyond 2021 that would make a “quick return” difficult.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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