First Korea-U.S. combined division to be madeIn a bid to boost deterrence against a North Korean attack, South Korea and the United States will create a combined division that will perform special combat duties, which will not change plans to remove all American soldiers from the inter-Korean border area by the end of 2016.
The Ministry of National Defense announced yesterday that a combined division of South Korean and U.S. soldiers will be created during the first half of next year.
The new unit, despite earlier speculation, will eventually be located in Pyeongtaek, about 64 kilometers (40 miles) south of Seoul.
According to a press release by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, the combined division will be composed of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division and a South Korean brigade.
The headquarters of the combined division will first be located with the 2nd Infantry Division in Uijeongbu, 20 kilometers north of Seoul, but will automatically relocate to Pyeongtaek, southern Gyeonggi, after the American troops move, the ministry said.
“The relocation of U.S. Forces Korea to Pyeongtaek will be completed by the end of 2016 as planned,” a senior official of the Defense Ministry said yesterday. “No American solider will remain north of the Han River.”
The possibility of keeping some U.S. forces in the area north of the Han River after the relocation has been discussed between South Korea and the United States for some time.
“There may be a need, operationally, to leave some residual [staff] in those areas just for proper defense and response,” said U.S. Forces Korea commanding general, Curtis Scaparrotti, in November, admitting it was a sensitive issue.
Yesterday’s announcement, however, made clear that all members of the 2nd Infantry Division will stay away from the front line near the demilitarized zone, ending the long-standing tripwire function of the U.S. forces.
The 2nd Infantry Division is tasked with defending the South until U.S. reinforcements arrive on the peninsula in the event of a North Korean attack. Of more than 28,000 American troops in the country, about 35 percent are members of the division.
The new combined division will be headed by the commander of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, while a South Korean brigadier general will serve as deputy commander. A group of 30 Korean staff officers will be assigned to the new division, the ministry said.
The Korean brigade to join the new combined division will perform their routine duties under the Korean chain of command in peace time and will join the U.S. troops for joint exercises.
In time of war, some in the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division will join the combined unit to create a special armored brigade to perform various tactical missions, the ministry said. The armored brigade is expected to be equipped with heavy weaponry including tanks and self-propelled artillery.
Its special missions during wartime are expected to include elimination of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea including its nuclear arsenal.
The combined division is separate from the planned combined command that is to be created in preparation for the upcoming wartime operation control transfer. The United States will hand over its wartime operational control to the South Korean military by next year.
“The combined division will benefit both countries in an operation because Korean soldiers are better at Korean topography and language, while the U.S. military has more experience in tactical missions,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]