USFK bunker plan could be cut to pay for border wall

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USFK bunker plan could be cut to pay for border wall

A U.S. military command bunker complex in South Korea could be scrapped to fund U.S. President Donald Trump’s wall on the border with Mexico, according to a list of possible cuts submitted by the Pentagon to Congress on Monday.

The inclusion of Command Post Tango on the 21-page list of projects is stoking concerns that a withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) may be the ultimate target of the Trump administration’s Korea policy.

According to a statement by the Pentagon, the total value of the hundreds of projects around the world listed on the document is around $12.9 billion. Many of the projects listed remain in the planning stages and have yet to be constructed, and there was also no indication about which projects would be prioritized for cuts.

On Monday, Pentagon Spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino told CNN that “some of the projects within this pool may be used to fund up to $3.6 billion in barrier construction.”

CP Tango, or Theater Air Naval Ground Operations, is a bunker designed to house the wartime headquarters of the Eighth Army command staff stationed in Korea as the “brains of the battlefield,” according to a military source in Seoul who said the Pentagon list is an alarming development. “North Korea has recently ramped up its military forces, like deploying a new missile on the front lines,” the source said. “The situation calls for an increase in spending and an update of defense capabilities.”

Another U.S. military asset in South Korea listed in the document is a drone hangar at the Kunsan Air Base valued at $53 million. Analysts say dismantling such a facility could negatively affect U.S. air offensive and intelligence capacities in Korea.

To follow through with his signature policy of building a wall on the United States’ southern border with Mexico, Trump recently declared a national emergency on illegal immigration that provided him with the legal authority to redirect federal funds to erecting the barrier. The Pentagon also requested a $7.2 billion budget for the wall from the 2020 defense budget.

Congressional approval, however, would be necessary to implement the proposed defense cuts, which appears to be an uphill battle given the polarized landscape of the U.S. legislature. Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat, slammed Trump’s moves on Monday, saying the president was “planning to take funds from real, effective operational priorities and needed projects and divert them to his vanity wall.”

Analysts in Seoul say the flagging of military assets in South Korea for possible cuts again reflects the White House’s disgruntlement over the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Trump has frequently complained about the “tremendously expensive” costs of joint military exercises and has more than once said he would like to withdraw the USFK. “President Trump appears to be redirecting funds used for military preparedness in Korea towards his political goal of a border wall based on a belief that he is stably managing affairs on the Korean Peninsula,” said Shin Beom-chul, head of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies’ Center for Security and Unification. “The decision to cut back on a wartime command post in spite of the recent lack of progress on denuclearization negotiations strikes me as an overly complacent view.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, HWANG SOO-YEON AND LEE KEUN-PYUNG [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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