The image captured from the website of the Senate Armed Services Committee shows Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of US Army Pacific, speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington on Tuesday, on his nomination as commander of US Forces Korea. (Senate Armed Services Committee)
WASHINGTON -- Joint field exercises between South Korean and US troops are extremely important to maintain their readiness, the nominee for commander of US Forces Korea (USFK) said Tuesday, adding he will work for the resumption of field exercises if confirmed.
Gen. Paul LaCamera insisted in-person training gives the combined forces an opportunity to work with each other and thus build their trust.
"They are extremely important to build readiness, but they are also extremely important to allow that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen get an opportunity to work with our ROK allies and see just how good they are," the Army general said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.
South Korea and the United States regularly hold joint military drills, but their exercises have largely been computer-simulated tabletop drills since the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year.
Also in 2018, the countries had postponed their joint military drills to support denuclearization dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. The US currently maintains some 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula.
"At the very low level, the tactical level, it's an opportunity for them to build that trust with each other," said LaCamera, currently the commander of US Army Pacific, based in Hawaii. "At the senior level ... it's an opportunity for us to exercise and to learn and continue to build on lessons learned."
The four-star general also expressed his support for the "conditions-based" transition of the operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops back to South Korea in the event of war. This comes amid Seoul's efforts to accelerate the long-delayed process before the Moon Jae-in administration's five-year term ends in May 2022.
"It's bilaterally agreed upon and I believe that it should remain as a conditions-based approach," LaCamera said when asked. "My assumption is that as they came to this bilateral agreement, they analyzed, identified the risk and this was the best way to reduce that risk, and I support it."
In a pre-submitted statement on policy questions, the general said the USFK expects it will take "several years" for South Korea to meet all the requirements laid out in their conditions-based OPCON transfer plan.
LaCamera also said he would advocate a greater role of USFK in regional contingencies facing US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).
"If confirmed, I will advocate for inclusion of USFK forces and capabilities in USINDOPACOM contingency and operational plans supporting US interests and objectives in the region," he said in his written testimony.
South Korea has consistently opposed USFK's direct involvement in contingencies other that those originating or involving North Korea since such engagement may bring unnecessary conflict to the Korean Peninsula, putting its people in harm's way.
"Today, the Republic of Korea-US Alliance is, and should remain, squarely focused on the immediate threat from North Korea," LaCamera wrote.
"The Alliance constantly updates its posture and plans as the security environment evolves. Given the global role of the US military and, increasingly, the international reach of the South Korean military, opportunities are emerging for Alliance cooperation beyond the Korean Peninsula," he added.
If confirmed, LaCamera will replace Gen. Robert Abrams as USFK commander, and also the commander of the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command. (Yonhap)