The planned relocation of most U.S. troops in South Korea to an expanded base south of Seoul will be completed by the end of 2016, the South’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday, confirming a widely expected four-year delay in the multi-billion dollar project.
The Defense Ministry, in a statement, said South Korea and the U.S. have recently finalized a fresh agreement to relocate the U.S. military’s headquarters in Seoul and its division-sized combat unit to the new military facilities in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of the capital.
“Construction of the new facilities in Pyeongtaek will be completed by 2015, and the relocation of U.S. bases to there will be finalized by 2016,” said a senior ministry official in charge of the project.
South Korea and the U.S. had held talks until early this year to finalize the new time line and other amendments to the relocation project and agreed to “closely cooperate” with each other to complete the project by the new deadline, the official said on the condition of anonymity.
In a 2004 deal with South Korea, the U.S. military has been pushing to relocate its Yongsan Garrison, the sprawling U.S. military headquarters in central Seoul, and the 2nd Infantry Division in camps north of Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
The time line for relocating U.S. bases in South Korea, part of a global U.S. troop realignment for strategic flexibility, had been readjusted several times because of slow construction at Camp Humphreys and funding concerns.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, an official date to close U.S. bases in and north of Seoul had been set for 2012, although many officials from Seoul and Washington had indicated that the relocation could be delayed until 2016.
The relocation plan requires Camp Humphreys to triple in size, and construction is now about 38 percent complete, the official said.
The relocation cost is initially estimated at around 11 trillion won ($9.9 billion) and will probably rise from inflation, according to the official.
Under the fresh agreement, South Korea will shoulder about 9 trillion won for relocating Yongsan Garrison while the U.S. will pay for relocating the 2nd Infantry Division, the official said.
About 8,000 American soldiers serve in Yongsan Garrison while the combat division houses some 14,000 troops.
When fully expanded, Camp Humphreys will transform into the main hub of the U.S. military in South Korea. Another hub for the U.S. military is based in Daegu, 302km southeast of Seoul.
Massive construction work is under way in Camp Humphreys to build six barracks, a landfill, roads, utilities, family housing apartments and a big aircraft maintenance hangar.
The U.S. stations some 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a cease-fire, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.