With command shift, Korean and U.S. soldiers may be mixed

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With command shift, Korean and U.S. soldiers may be mixed

The South Korean military and the United States Forces Korea are pushing forward with a plan to mix ground forces at regular times, not just in joint military drills, in preparation for the transfer of wartime operational command, a senior Seoul official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“If we take over wartime operational command, the current single command system, led by the commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, becomes a double command system, led by both the Korean military commander and the U.S. Forces Korea commander,” said the official. “To prevent a possible decline in joint military capacity as a result of that, we are actively considering forming mixed ground troops.”

If the U.S. hands over wartime operational command on the Korean Peninsula to the South Korean military as scheduled in 2015 and the ROK-US Joint Forces Command is dissolved, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Korea will lead wartime military operations and the United States Korea Command will support them.

The plan to mix ground troops at ordinary times is meant to prevent a possible vacuum in military readiness as a result of the division of the military forces of the two countries under two separate command systems.

According to military sources, Michael Tucker, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, was known to have suggested the idea to Korean Army Chief of Staff Gen. Kim Sang-ki recently.

The scale of the mix - how many soldiers of the two countries will be merged into joint ground troops - and other details are not yet known.

There would be no change in regards to Air Force troops, according to the official. Under the current plan, even after wartime operational command is handed over to South Korea, the U.S. Forces Korea will assume the top Air Force commander position and the Korean Air Force Chief of Staff will assume the vice commandership.

“The instability of North Korea is growing and so is its threat [toward the South], but the transfer of wartime operational command to the Korean military and the dissolution of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command is not shaky,” said the government official, brushing aside reports by some local media outlets yesterday that Seoul and Washington are reconsidering a plan to dissolve the ROK-US Combined Forces Command.

The official, however, said that the two countries are making finely tuned adjustments to ensure swift mobilization of the U.S. military and augmentation of its forces in the case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.

Since last year, the two countries have been performing 110 tasks for the transfer of the wartime operational control. As of yesterday, those tasks were 60 percent complete, according to a South Korean military official.

South Korea has technically been at war with North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in armistice rather than a peace treaty.

By Kim Su-jeong, Moon Gwang-lip[joe@joongang.co.kr]
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