USFK plans to move combined command to Pyeongtaek

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USFK plans to move combined command to Pyeongtaek

The United States told the Moon Jae-in administration that it wants to move the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command from its planned relocation site in Yongsan District, central Seoul, to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, government sources told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday.

“General Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the commander of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, recently told Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo about the change of plans,” the JoongAng Ilbo quoted a government source as saying in its Thursday edition. “The Ministry of National Defense is currently reviewing the proposal.”

The newspaper also said multiple government sources confirmed the U.S. military’s relocation plan. Originally, the United States planned to keep the Combined Forces Command (CFC) in Yongsan.

Other top U.S. military offices - the headquarters of the U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command and Eighth Army Command - have been relocated away from Yongsan to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.

According to the sources, General Abrams had considered two options for relocating the CFC. One was to move it inside Camp Humphreys and the other was to keep it inside the U.S. military base in Yongsan until the United States completed the process of handing over wartime operational control of Korean troops to Korea.

Seoul and Washington originally agreed to keep the CFC inside the compound of the Korean Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan. During a lecture on Jan. 4 last year, General Vincent Brooks, then the commander of the Korea-U.S. CFC and U.S. Forces Korea, said the CFC will remain in Seoul.

At the time, he said the CFC will be located inside the compound of the Korean Ministry of National Defense, where the ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are also located. The plan will allow the military capabilities of the allies to be concentrated, he said.

“Then-Defense Minister Song Young-moo and then-U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed verbally that the CFC will move to the Defense Ministry compound during the 49th Security Consultative Meeting in October 2017,” a government source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “General Brooks, then, signed a memorandum of understanding later that year on the agreement.”

The situation, however, changed after Abrams replaced Brooks in November last year, as Abrams ordered the U.S. military to completely reconsider the plan. He also said that an independent building that will accommodate offices for at least 200 people is necessary.

He then changed the plan again and told Seoul that he wanted to move the CFC to Camp Humphreys.

“General Abrams told Minister Jeong that the U.S. staff officers serving the CFC will have to live apart from their families in Pyeongtaek if the CFC remains in Yongsan,” another government source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Under such a working environment, it is hard to recruit excellent officers in the United States to serve in Korea.”

Because the main military headquarters and staff officers are in Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, General Abrams spends only two days a week in Seoul to perform his duties as the commander of the Korea-U.S. CFC.

According to the sources, the U.S. military offered to create barracks for Korean troops if a new CFC building is built inside Camp Humphreys.

The location of the CFC - whether it will be inside the Korean Defense Ministry or inside Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek - carries significance. The Ministry of National Defense has already created a plan in which that the chairman of the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff will serve as the commander of the Korea-U.S. CFC after wartime operational control transfer is completed in May 2022, at the end of President Moon’s term.

If the CFC is relocated to inside the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would need to commute between Seoul and Pyeongtaek. If the CFC is located inside the U.S. military’s jurisdiction, the United States will likely maintain significant influence after the wartime operational control transfer.

When Korea and the United States first agreed to the Yongsan Relocation Plan in July 2004, the CFC was set to move to Pyeongtaek.

When the Roh Moo-hyun administration pushed for the transfer of wartime operational control in August 2006, Seoul and Washington agreed that they would dismantle the CFC.

During the Park Geun-hye administration, the two sides agreed in October 2014 to postpone the transfer indefinitely until certain conditions are met.

They agreed to keep the CFC inside the U.S. military base in Yongsan.

In 2017, the Ministry of National Defense of the Moon administration told the United States that it wants to move the CFC building away from Yongsan Garrison because it will obstruct a plan to redevelop the former U.S. base into a park.

The two sides agreed to relocate the CFC to the nearby Korean Defense Ministry compound, but now the United States wants to move the command outside Seoul to Pyeongtaek.

Following the JoongAng Ilbo report, other government sources confirmed to domestic media that the United States has proposed moving the CFC.

“The U.S. military seems to prefer Pyeongtaek over the Defense Ministry compound,” a government official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.

According to Yonhap, General Abrams visited the possible candidate sites for the CFC in January. He surveyed the Joint Chiefs of Staff building, the Joint Warfighting Simulation Center and other buildings inside the Defense Ministry compound.

The United States reportedly informed the Defense Ministry after the site survey that it wants to relocate the CFC to Pyeongtaek.

“The CFC relocation issue is currently being discussed between the two sides,” a Defense Ministry official told Yonhap. “No final conclusion has been made.”

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