South Korea and the US seek to relocate their Combined Forces Command headquarters by the end of 2021 from Seoul to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, ahead of the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul, according to Defense Ministry officials Sunday.
The tentative timeline was set by the allies following a meeting between Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and then acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in Seoul in June when they agreed to move the CFC headquarters, currently located in Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, to Camp Humphreys, a US military complex in Pyeongtaek.
A panoramic view of the US military base in Yongsan, central Seoul (Yonhap)
The relocation plan will receive final approval by the defense chiefs during talks scheduled to be held in October or November in Seoul, according to the officials.
By the end of 2020, the US plans to set up the so-called Operation Center at Camp Humphreys in the building where the CFC will be housed. It will serve as the nerve center and will be connected to the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii and the US military base in Japan’s Okinawa through the “C4I” military communications systems.
If realized, the relocation will be completed before Seoul is expected to retake the wartime operational control in 2022, which requires a lengthy verification process, including a test for South Korean military’s initial operational capability.
The two sides have agreed on a “conditions-based” OPCON transition. The conditions are the South’s capability to lead the allies’ combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and a stable security environment on the peninsula.
Along with the plan, the South Korean government is seeking to accelerate the return of US Forces Korea bases, according to Cheong Wa Dae on Friday.
Of among 80 USFK bases, 54 sites have been returned so far and the presidential office announced that it will “push actively for an early return of the remaining 26 bases,” citing inconvenience to residents in the surrounding areas and increasing costs incurred due to delays in the return.
The announcement led to speculation that it was designed to increase the government’s leverage ahead of negotiations for a defense cost sharing deal between the two countries.
US President Donald Trump has been publicly pushing for a substantial hike in South Korea’s cost contribution for the stationing of 28,500 US troops here.
The abrupt announcement also invited speculations that it reflects Seoul’s frustration with Washington, which has been repeatedly expressing disappointment over South Korea’s decision not to renew a bilateral intelligence sharing pact with Tokyo amid intensifying historical and trade disputes.
Cheong Wa Dae denied a link between the early return of US bases and the US response to a termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement signed in 2016 and renewed annually.
“The early return of the base was notified to the US in advance, and it is not related to the current diplomatic and security issues,” an official said.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org