South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to organize a combined wartime division of their allied troops early next year to enhance their joint defense posture and combat capabilities, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Choi Yoon-hee and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Curtis Scaparrotti recently reached an agreement over the division particularly to strengthen “tactical-level” military operational cooperation, officials said.
“The allies currently have their Combined Forces Command to ensure the strategic-level cooperation. But the new division will provide opportunities to strengthen the allies’ tactical-level wartime cooperation,” said Maj. Gen. Wi Seung-ho, chief of the JCS division in charge of a new allied defense structure.
“Through the preparations for the wartime division, the allied troops would be able to achieve some synergic effect, strengthen interoperability and raise personnel with expertise in allied operations and other alliance-related issues.”
The allied division is to be formed during wartime. A South Korean-mechanized infantry brigade, which will carry out its normal duties in its assigned area during peacetime, will be added to the Second U.S. Infantry Division to form the division during wartime.
During peacetime, some 30 South Korean officers will be dispatched to the Second U.S. ID in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, to be part of the joint staff to lead the wartime division. The two-star Second U.S. ID commander will lead the division, while a one-star South Korean general will serve as a deputy commander.
|South Korea and the United States conduct a joint military drill in Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)|
After all U.S. installations are relocated to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, by 2016 under the Land Partnership Plan, the allied staff will also move to Pyeongtaek.
The allies once considered placing the division north of Seoul to ensure stronger deterrence against North Korea. But they apparently decided against the idea due in large part to opposition from local residents who insisted all U.S. bases north of Seoul move out as planned.
The U.S. Forces Korea has been carrying out its relocation projects through two major plans: the Yongsan Relocation Plan and the Land Partnership Plan. The YRP is to relocate the USFK headquarters and the U.N. Command in Seoul to Pyeongtaek, while the LPP is to consolidate forces from north of Seoul to Pyeongtaek.
The division is expected to undertake wartime missions including conducting civilian affairs operations in North Korea and remove weapons of mass destruction including nuclear arsenal, local reports said.
When the new division is organized next year, allied troops will be able to conduct more joint tactical drills in areas including those north of Seoul even as the U.S. bases are relocated to Pyeongtaek, analysts said.
The division is separate from the Combined Theater Command -- the envisioned command structure to be established following the transfer of wartime operational control.
The U.S. has suggested forging the combined division, officials said. Last November, Gen. Scaparrotti confirmed that the allies were considering the division. His predecessor James D. Thurman is known to have first proposed creating the division to strengthen the alliance and its deterrence against the unpredictable, provocative regime in Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, South Korea has reportedly accepted the U.S. proposal to retain the allies’ Combined Forces Command in central Seoul until Seoul retakes wartime operational control from Washington.
“Under the allies’ (recent) agreement, the CFC will remain in Seoul. Currently, the allies are coordinating their stances over the scale of the CFC,” a high-level government official was cited by Yonhap as saying.
The Defense Ministry dismissed the report, saying that the U.S. base relocation projects would proceed as planned.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org