Scaparrotti discusses Yongsan, North’s tactics

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Scaparrotti discusses Yongsan, North’s tactics

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top U.S. commander in Korea, emphasized Tuesday that only a minimum U.S. Armed Forces staff would stay on the base in Yongsan, central Seoul.

Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command (CFC), also warned that Pyongyang is making progress in developing its asymmetric warfare capabilities.

In a lecture held by the Association of the Republic of Korea Army at the Koreana Hotel in central Seoul, Scaparrotti said he plans to “reduce the footprint on Yongsan.”

To do this, the four-star general said, he would “move all but a few of the U.S. Forces headquarters and UN headquarters” and only retain officials required for CFC missions.

Seoul and Washington initially agreed in 2004 to relocate the U.S. Forces headquarters to Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, by 2016.

However, last month, Seoul and Washington agreed to indefinitely postpone the transfer of wartime operational control (opcon) back to Korea following a meeting between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Han Min-koo.

With the postponement, the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the U.S. 8th Army Command will also remain at the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul.

The Park Geun-hye administration requested last year that the U.S. handover of wartime operational control, scheduled to take place on Dec. 1, 2015, be delayed, citing continued tensions with North Korea.

The rest of the American troops located north of the Han River are still scheduled move to Pyeongtaek by 2016 as planned.

Scaparrotti added that he understands very well the Yongsan Relocation Plan (YRP) and the Land Partnership Plan (LPP) and would like to follow the original agreement between Seoul and Washington “as closely as possible.”

The Yongsan Relocation Plan calls for the transfer of a large percentage of some 9,000 U.S. military personnel and their families from the Yongsan base to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek so the land can be returned to Korea.

The Land Partnership Plan will withdraw about 10,000 troops of the Second Infantry Division from areas near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to relocate them to Camp Humphreys.

In regards to Pyongyang’ provocations, Scaparrotti said, “Kim Jong-un, unlike his father Kim Jong-il, is overconfident and unpredictable.”

He pointed out that North Korean leader Kim realizes that “he cannot win in a conventional war” and “was focused on his military development and training on asymmetric capability.”

He said, “The North Korean military is making progress in this area,” underscoring the need for procuring ballistic missile defense systems and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

Such asymmetric capabilities include nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, biochemical weapons and attack submarines that can lead to mass destruction.

He said that following its third nuclear test in February 2013, Pyongyang significantly increased its frequency of no-notice ballistic missile launches this year. He pointed to the North’s provocative activities in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas and the de facto maritime border between the two countries, the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea.

Scaparrotti said last month that North Korea is believed to have the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount on a missile.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Hagel resigned Monday as U.S. President Barack Obama recalibrates his national security team.

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