ROK-U.S. News

UPI – U.S., South Korea turning attention to joint exercises, reports say

The United States and South Korea military officials discussed joint exercises Thursday. The drills were canceled or downscaled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA

The United States and South Korea military officials discussed joint exercises Thursday. The drills were canceled or downscaled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA
Dec. 31 (UPI) — The United States and South Korea discussed plans for potential military exercises, but the two sides are concerned about the impact of drills on North Korea, according to reports.

The United States and South Korea have staged exercises at least twice a year before the coronavirus pandemic, in March and August. In 2020, training for the Combined Forces Command was postponed and only a scaled-down drill took place in late August, News 1 reported Thursday.The COVID-19 pandemic also has delayed bilateral plans for verifying full operational capabilities, or FOC, of South Korea’s military, the first step toward transitioning wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea, also known as OPCON.

South Korea is seeking the completion of the transition before May 2022, the end of President Moon Jae-in’s term, but U.S. Forces Korea officials have suggested more time is needed.

The U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command is currently the war-fighting mission control on the peninsula. It has more than 600,000 active duty soldiers of both countries under its command. The United States has 28,500 troops in Korea.

On Thursday, U.S. and South Korean military officials also exchanged views on training with ways that would not provoke North Korea, South Korean news network MBN reported. Pyongyang has claimed the joint exercises are a preparation for an invasion.

The meeting of the Combined Forces Command, USFK, the United Nations Command, and the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, took place in the same day COVID-19 vaccines were distributed to South Korean workers on U.S. military bases and South Korean KATUSA soldiers posted to U.S. army bases.

COVID-19 vaccines for U.S. troops in Korea began earlier this week. A second delivery of vaccines is expected soon, and U.S. and South Korean militaries are discussing the continued distribution of the vaccines to service members of both nationalities, according to reports.


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Yonhap – USFK to begin COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) — U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) will start administering its initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine this week, beginning with health care workers, officials said Monday.

USFK received the first shipment of Moderna’s vaccine on Friday as Camp Humphreys was chosen by the U.S. government as one of four sites outside the continental U.S. that will receive the initial vaccination.

“USFK has received its initial shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and will begin inoculations tomorrow at U.S. Army Garrison Camp Humphreys as well as Osan and Kunsan Air Bases,” USFK spokesperson Col. Lee Peters said in a statement to Yonhap News Agency.

“The initial group will be front-line health care workers, first responders and select individuals as authorized by the Department of Defense,” he said. “We have received enough vaccines to inoculate our initial phase as intended by (the Department of Defense).”

The spokesperson did not say how many doses the command has received, citing “operational security concerns,” but another USFK official said that the vaccine will be administered in three phases and around 100 people will get the shot first.

Workers transport the first shipment of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) onto a truck after it was unloaded from a FedEx cargo plane at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Dec. 25, 2020. (Yonhap)

Workers transport the first shipment of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) onto a truck after it was unloaded from a FedEx cargo plane at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Dec. 25, 2020. (Yonhap)

USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams said earlier that his command is expected to receive additional shipments for all eligible USFK-affiliated community members as production and distribution increases.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use and vaccination is voluntary, but the command strongly recommends its members receive the vaccine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Moderna’s vaccine earlier this month as the country’s second COVID-19 vaccine after Pfizer’s.

Around 40 South Korean service members affiliated with the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army, known as KATUSA, are working at Allgood Army Community Hospital inside Camp Humphreys, and they could also be subject to the inoculation, officials said.

“Currently, working-level talks between the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), USFK and the defense ministry are under way about the matter,” ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan told a regular briefing.

USFK is expected to make an official request for formal consultations with the Seoul ministry, and the two sides will make a related decision accordingly, a ministry official said.

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Yonhap – Defense ministry vows ‘active push’ for assessment of conditions for OPCON transfer next year

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) –South Korea will work with the United States next year to actively carry out assessments of whether the country is on course to meet the conditions required for retaking wartime operational control of its forces from Washington, the defense ministry said Monday.

The commitment by the South Korean military leadership was made during the biannual meeting to review this year’s progress regarding the envisioned OPCON transfer.

“Our military will continue efforts to boost defense capabilities to meet conditions for the transition at an early date,” the ministry said in a statement. “We will also proactively push for Korea-U.S. joint evaluation about transition conditions.”

The right conditions are South Korea’s capability to lead the allies’ combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to the North’s nuclear and missile threats and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region.

Some critics say that those terms are vague and in-depth discussions are necessary to clarify them.

The ministry also said it will continue close consultations with the U.S. to carry out a Full Operational Capability (FOC) test. The test, meant to check if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions, was supposed to be held this year, but the two sides were not able to do that fully due to the COVID-19 situation.

“The OPCON transfer is one of our government’s major policy goals and a key task for achieving our self-defense goal. We should push related projects in an proactive and systematic manner,” Suh said while presiding over the meeting.

South Korea and the U.S. have revealed some differences about the issue.

During the bilateral defense ministers’ meeting in October, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that it will take time to meet required conditions for the transition, while Suh said that the two sides will work together to get prepared by meeting the conditions at an early date.

Though the transition is not time-based, the current Moon Jae-in administration hopes to retake the OPCON of its troops from Washington within his term that ends in May 2022.

Defense Minister Suh Wook (3rd from R) speaks during a biannual meeting on the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) in Seoul on Dec. 28, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Defense Minister Suh Wook (3rd from R) speaks during a biannual meeting on the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) in Seoul on Dec. 28, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Yonhap – Ex-U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis to receive Korea-U.S. alliance award

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) — Former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was chosen as the recipient of a South Korean government award for his contribution to the security of the Korean Peninsula and the bilateral alliance, the defense ministry said Monday.

Mattis, who served as the top U.S. defense official between 2017 and 2019, will receive this year’s Paik Sun-yup Award, which was named after the best-known South Korean hero of the 1950-53 Korean War. He is the eighth recipient.

“He played a pivotal role in managing the security situation on the Korean Peninsula in 2017, when tensions ran high, which helped set conditions for the Korea peace process,” the ministry said in a statement.

Mattis also “presented a blueprint for a staunch combined defense mechanism after the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) by signing the ‘Alliance Guiding Principles’ in 2018,” the ministry added.

The guideline contains a set of commitments, such as the U.S. pledge not to withdraw its forces from Korea. The two countries have been working for the OPCON transition of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul.

The award ceremony was supposed to be held in October during the Korea-U.S. defense ministers’ meeting, but it was rescheduled early next year due to the new coronavirus.

Mattis expressed his intention to donate prize money to a project to build a memorial wall in Washington to commemorate U.S. veterans who fought in the Korean War, according to the ministry.

The war broke out on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded the South. The U.S. and 20 other allied countries fought alongside South Korea under the United Nations flag, while China helped North Korea.

It ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (L) and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis sign an approved guideline after concluding their annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington on Oct. 31, 2018, in this photo provided by Jeong's ministry. The guideline, called the Alliance Guiding Principles, addresses how the two countries will operate their combined defense mechanism after the wartime operation control (OPCON) is transferred to the South Korean side. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (L) and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis sign an approved guideline after concluding their annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington on Oct. 31, 2018, in this photo provided by Jeong’s ministry. The guideline, called the Alliance Guiding Principles, addresses how the two countries will operate their combined defense mechanism after the wartime operation control (OPCON) is transferred to the South Korean side. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Yonhap – Ceremony held to honor over 500 sets of remains of soldiers killed in Korean War

SEOUL, Dec. 18 (Yonhap) — South Korea held a ceremony Friday to honor a total of 514 sets of recently unearthed remains of soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War, vowing to make every effort until the last remains are returned to loved ones.

The ceremony took place at the Seoul National Cemetery, attended by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, Defense Minister Suh Wook and around 50 senior government and military officials.

The remains include 127 sets discovered during this year’s excavation work on Arrowhead Ridge inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), 147 sets repatriated from the United States in June, and others found in extensive operations across the country, according to the ministry.

Of them, 19 were identified and returned to their families. The remaining unidentified remains will be moved to the Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification under the defense ministry for further analysis, the ministry said.

“Currently, we have DNA samples from only 60,000 families. We will continue to work hard to discover remains and collect more DNA data for identification,” the ministry said in a statement.

South Korea launched the excavation work in 2000 as it marked the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the war. Since then, it has discovered around 10,000 sets of remains, with nearly 120,000 troops yet to be retrieved.

During the three-year war, 178,569 South Korean and U.N. soldiers were killed, and 42,769 others remain unaccounted for, according to government data.

Soldiers excavate the remains believed to be from Song Hae-kyung, a South Korean soldier killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, at Arrowhead Ridge in the central section of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, in this photo released by the defense ministry on Nov. 27, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Soldiers excavate the remains believed to be from Song Hae-kyung, a South Korean soldier killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, at Arrowhead Ridge in the central section of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, in this photo released by the defense ministry on Nov. 27, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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VOA Interview Series: “KDVA will pave forward to become a pivotal bridge to dissolve misunderstanding between two nations”

Voice of America | By Dong-hyun Kim

Intro: It has been 2 months since General Vincent Brooks, the former commander of ROK-US combined forces command became the new president of Korea Defense Veteran’s Association. The organization which has been launched in 2017 is the largest organization in the US related with the US-ROK Alliance matter. VOA reporter Dong-hyun Kim interviewed General Brooks on its future role and the recent geo-political situation in the Peninsula

Question 1) You’ve been assigned as the 2nd president for Korea Defense Veteran Association Last October. Could you explain to our audience what this organization is?

Answer) It’s been two months. So I took over on the first of October. And here we are almost on the first of December. The focus of KDVA is to provide a connection to the millions of Korean Defense veterans, that the people who have served since the signing of the armistice, and it’s a great number. And so it includes both Americans and Koreans, particularly Americans who served in USFK or CFC. And the Koreans who serve in the Combined Forces Command or as KATUSAs… The membership is paid for by their service. And the fact that they served in Korea, under the conditions of armistice since 1953. That they have to pay, they’ve already paid it…And so it’s a very large population, it’s still a very young organization. So we’re still building it, to try to build the membership and to reach that great number of people. But as we do, we also focus on educating the public and helping to inform understanding in both Korea and the United States on the importance of the Alliance.

Question 2) Often a Peninsula related Association has the impression as a Korean War Veteran Association. Does KDVA have any expectations toward the younger generations of both countries?

Answer) That is what we are really looking for as our members. We’re not the same as the Korean War veterans, for example, which focuses on those who actually served and fought in the Korean War. And although we do honor them, which is appropriate… But this association is for people who came after that. And while that will have many generations in it, people who served in the 1950s, there’s people who serve the 60s 70s 80s, etc. We do want to make sure that the younger generations are included, they feel welcome in this organization.

Question 3) You had recently underlined the importance to correct misunderstanding not only limited within the Korean public but as well as within the US society.

Answer) The Association is focused on the Alliance, and also being focused on helping educate the public of both countries about the nature of Alliance. So whether it’s a webinar talking about one specific subject, like transfer, or the role of United Nations command or Combined Forces Command, birthday reading, honoring someone like General Baek SunYup. To the extent that KDVA can help to communicate the details of what the Op-con transition is, or is not, not from the mechanics of it, in terms of exactly what the different conditions are that sort of thing, but rather, the principles that are behind it… (Hyperlinked with your previous comment on Pershing Rules : One example of misconception within US public is the Pershing Rule which is irrelevant with Op-con Transition)  We also want to be supportive and enabling those in government who are actually leading the Alliance at the present time. So whether that’s military leaders, or political leaders, and to the extent that they desire any advice, we certainly can provide that…KDVA both need to be actively in that space of helping to inform people about what the real rules and limitations are and how to address the concerns that arise in each country.

Question 4) Last month there was the SCM. the Korean MND representative had a background briefing with their correspondent in D.C. They told the press that they asked advise from KDVA the day before the SCM started.

Answer) Our effort, as the SCM came up was to convey the support of both the Korea defense Veterans Association and the Korea us Alliance Foundation. The two presidents of those organizations communicated our support and our encouragement for a good SCM. That’s what that was. We sent a written letter to each the Secretary and the Minister.

Question 5) Some south Korean media depicts KDVA due to its potential membership reaching 3.5million from US ROK veterans that they speculate KDVA growing to become the largest Pro-Korean organization in the near future? 

Answer) Well, it’s not a lobbying group. So it doesn’t exist to lobby government. It exists to inform and assist on Alliance matters. And so whether in Washington or in Seoul or in between, especially now as we’re using what Webinars and we’re reaching way beyond Washington. That’s, that’s the intent. So while things might gather in Washington, the events might occur in Washington. It’s not, a lobbying group and it shouldn’t be misunderstood that way. if government asks for advice from KDVA or its membership we have advice to offer, but it’s not a lobbying group.

Question 6) One particular consulting company caught attention by medias from both US and South Korea. The majority of that company’s consultants are appointed as Biden’s cabinet such as the Secretary of State or the Transition team. Some media depict it as a power house or a secret organization for the Biden Administration. You also currently serve in that consulting firm.

Answer) Well, it’s not an accurate picture. The West Exec Advisor is not a secretive organization. And it is not a government consulting organization. It’s a business consulting organization. it’s comprised of people who have had experience in the highest level of national security, who literally have had the experience of walking across the west executive Avenue, which separates the West Wing and the White House, from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. So that’s what the players are, but it’s Bipartisan. Itis a bipartisan organization. If you look carefully at the principles are inside, you’ll find people who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Question 7) According to Korea’s National Intelligence service, it is known that Chairman Kim Jong Un had ordered a directive not to stimulate or prod against US. What is your view on this directive?

Answer) I think it’s interesting directive, and would potentially confirm the view that North Korea is trying to be careful to not skew the relationship with the United States, in some direction that cannot be reversed by moving too early, or too extremely. I believe that the Biden transition team is looking at it the same way. They’re being very careful about their communications, so as to not skew the relationship too early. But that means that both sides are waiting for the other move. And so we’ll have to see what the first signals are, and how well they’re received by the opposite sides.

Question 8) Some view that there are high probability that North Korea will take immediate provocation on day one when Biden becomes president.

Answer) This is an extension of the previous point, that both sides are being careful not to skew the relationship in a direction that cannot be reversed by moving too early or too extremely. And so, the move right on Inauguration Day, would be a reaction to something that came before Inauguration Day from either government. So a newly elected President Biden, inaugurated President Biden, if he moves on that first day, it may be to send a signal but doing something specifically about that on day one, one establishes priority and also determines direction. And similarly, if Kim Jong Un engages in provocation on Inauguration Day, it is sending a message out of usually frustration if it’s a provocation to something that came before that. Now There may come a time where North Korea decides that they want to stimulate the dialogue could begin to move at an accelerated pace. And a provocation could look like that. But I think both sides are being careful right now not to create a condition where there has to be a set of actions and reactions associated with the inauguration.

Question 9) So if North Korea makes the first move. When do you see that potential time line?

Answer) Normally signals would begin, I think, within the first 30 to 40 days of the new administration, and North Korea, if they’re still waiting, may do something to stimulate the dialogue to shake the tree. (Especially on Kim Jong Un’s new year speech), he may quickly go in a number directions, but I would be hopeful that he would not engage in rhetoric that skews the relationship negatively, that he might comment on his expectations. And what he expects of the United States in terms of relationship he made placing demands on what it takes to move forward in dialogue. Who knows, he may completely leave it out, he may seek to allow the US to demonstrate the first signal, and he may not speak about it at all.

This has been a conversation with General Vincent Brooks who served as the commander of ROK-US Combined Forces Command. This is Dong-hyun Kim who conveyed the interview

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Yonhap – USFK to raise virus warning level for all areas in S. Korea amid resurgence

SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) — U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Wednesday it will raise the health protection level against the new coronavirus for all areas in South Korea following a resurgence of coronavirus infections.

Effective 00:01 a.m. Saturday, the U.S. military will heighten the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) to Charlie, or HPCON C, for all areas in the country, USFK said in a Facebook post.

Under the tightened rules, only “mission-essential” individuals will report for duty while other personnel will work remotely.

“While bubble-to-bubble travel remains authorized, USFK highly encourages all individuals to avoid travel as much as possible across South Korea,” it said.

USFK said it will make a new assessment regarding the protection level on Jan. 4.

On Friday, USFK raised its protection level to Charlie within Seoul, the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western city of Incheon.

The decision to raise the HPCON level for all areas within the country came after South Korea’s daily number of new virus cases hit the highest on Wednesday since its first outbreak in January.

This file photo shows a gate of the U.S. base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows a gate of the U.S. base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul. (Yonhap)


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FDD – Partnering With Seoul to Deter Pyongyang

The U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula protects vital U.S. interests in the region and deters military attack by North Korea against the U.S. homeland or America’s South Korean ally. The Trump administration, however, has pursued burden sharing negotiations with Seoul in a manner that undermines American interests and the U.S.-ROK alliance. A review of U.S. interests, as well the leading threats to those interests, demonstrates the importance of recommitting to U.S. combat power in South Korea.

North Korea is often derided as a “hermit kingdom,” cut off from the technologies and advances of the modern world. But the threat from North Korea cannot be ignored. It has continued to develop and deploy a ballistic missile arsenal capable of ranging the continental United States. These missiles include the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).1 Experts estimate North Korea possesses between 30 and 60 nuclear weapons.2 To make matters worse, the North seeks to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount on these ICBMs. It is likely North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM tests in 2017 were designed to further this goal as well as send a warning to the U.S. during the year of “fire and fury.”3 North Korea has not conducted an ICBM test since November 2017 but continues to advance its ballistic missile program.4

However, on October 10, 2020, at a military parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers Party of Korea, Pyongyang introduced two new, untested missile systems: a possible Hwasong-16 ICBM and a possible Pukguksong-4, a submarine-launched ballistic missile.5 In addition, the regime displayed a wide variety of advanced conventional weapons, showing marked improvement since the 70th anniversary parade.6 These developments reveal that Pyongyang has continued evading sanctions and undermining the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign. North Korea has continued to develop its military capabilities primarily to achieve its seven-decades-old goal of unifying the Korean peninsula under the North Korean totalitarian family dynasty.7 The North Korean military represents an existential threat to South Korea – one of America’s important democratic partners in a turbulent region – and Pyongyang’s ICBMs pose a direct threat to the United States.8

Pyongyang’s military, the fourth-largest in the world, threatens South Korea and Japan.9 Although equipped with mostly outdated Russian equipment backed by an antiquated communist military doctrine, the North’s numerical advantage is formidable. North Korea’s 1.2 million active-duty personnel double the 600,000 troops fielded by South Korea’s military.10 North Korea deploys 70 percent of its forces between Pyongyang and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) – around 30 miles or less from Seoul. The North also positions its artillery and rocket arsenal just north of the DMZ, in range of the greater Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to more htan 25 million South Koreans and 150,000 Americans.11 This threatens millions of innocent lives.12

Pyongyang also has developed a wide range of asymmetric capabilities to offset weaknesses inherent in its obsolete equipment and vastly inferior economy.13 These include chemical and biological weapons,14 advanced cyber operations,15 and one of the world’s largest special operations forces.16 North Korea is also developing and fielding thousands of short- and medium-range missiles and rocket systems designed to threaten U.S. and ROK bases across the peninsula.17

If North Korea were to attack South Korea, the human and economic consequences would be staggering. It is worth remembering that over 2 million Koreans and 36,574 Americans lost their lives in the Korean conflict.18 Furthermore, war could also spill over beyond the peninsula, resulting in North Korean ballistic missile, cyber, and unconventional warfare attacks on Japan, for example. Such a conflict could also lead to direct clashes between China and the United States – as it did in 1950.

The United States has belatedly sprinted to improve homeland missile defense against a potential North Korean ICBM attack on the American homeland. These defenses against a limited North Korean ICBM attack provide an element of deterrence by denial. However, as Pyongyang builds its ICBM and nuclear programs, the United States needs credible deterrence by punishment, too. The forward U.S. military presence in South Korea provides just that. In 1997, the highest ranking defector from North Korea, Hwang Jang-yop, openly stated that the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea is the only thing deterring North Korean aggression.19

The U.S. presence in the South is not insignificant. There are 28,500 U.S. troops assigned to United States Forces Korea.20 In addition, a U.S. Army Brigade Combat Team rotates to South Korea every nine months. Strategic assets from the U.S. Air Force and Navy, including bombers, submarines, and aircraft carrier strike groups, routinely deploy to the Korean theater and exercise with South Korean forces.21 The largest component of forward-stationed U.S. forces is the Eighth U.S. Army, with the majority of troops based at Camp Humphreys, which is the largest U.S. military installation outside the United States.22 That facility was completed in 2018 at a cost of approximately $10.7 billion.23 South Korea provided 90 percent of the funding, which fell outside the scope of the normal Special Measures Agreement process.24 Many of these U.S. Army forces serve as the enablers to safely and effectively surge large-scale U.S. ground forces during a crisis or war with North Korea.

The 7th Air Force consists of two fighter wings at the Osan and Kunsan air bases. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Special Operations components consist only of headquarters, which support the rotational deployment of U.S. forces for planning, training, and exercises.25

U.S. Army’s M1A2 tank and soldiers and South Korean soldiers participate in a river crossing exercise in Yeoncheon-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun via Getty Images)

After decades of partnership and deterrence, the U.S.-ROK relationship has recently come under strain.26 Ignoring the clear benefits of the U.S. military presence in South Korea, the Trump administration has pushed Seoul to contribute more to offset the costs of stationing U.S. forces. While discrete disagreements over burden sharing between allies every few years are commonplace, the Trump administration’s obstreperous approach has introduced new and unnecessary tension into the relationship. Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang could not be more pleased.

President Trump has reiterated his desire to bring U.S. troops home “at some point.”27 Special Measures Agreement negotiations stalemated in the summer of 2020 after Trump demanded South Korea increase burden sharing by 400 percent.28 The administration’s surprise announcement that it would withdraw 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany unsurprisingly put removal of troops from Korea in the spotlight.29

Pyongyang would perceive a significant U.S. military withdrawal from South Korea as evidence of a declining U.S. willingness to honor its treaty commitments to South Korea. This could invite the North Korean military aggression that America’s military presence has deterred for decades. Withdrawal would also represent a gift to Beijing, which is eager to see the U.S. military depart the region. Such a move might even force Seoul and other U.S. allies in Asia to consider further accommodating Beijing’s interests.

The cost savings for America, it should be noted, are far from clear. It is not inexpensive to move up to 28,500 troops, their dependents, and their equipment off the peninsula. The Pentagon would be forced to spend billions of finite dollars on personnel moves and new military construction projects for a withdrawal that would reduce military readiness and make America less safe.

Congress has expressed bipartisan concern regarding any potential withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. Most recently, in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 Conference Report, Congress included section 1258, which would make it more difficult to reduce the number of U.S. troops in South Korea below 28,500 troops – the current level there.30

Going forward, Washington should certainly continue to press Seoul during the Special Measures Agreement negotiation process to ensure fair and equitable burden sharing.31 But Washington should not do so at the expense of other U.S. interests or with unrealistic expectations of America’s Korean allies. South Korea is not a freeloader; Seoul spends nearly 2.7 percent of GDP on defense, one of the highest rates among the world’s democracies.32 Negotiations should account for all types of support, and the agreement should be implemented for the traditional five-year period. In addition, Washington should reach an agreement with South Korea on strategic flexibility, which will more easily allow the United States to use U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula to support training, exercises, and contingencies in the Indo-Pacific region.33

As part of a review of U.S. military posture, the Pentagon should assess what is required in South Korea to defend America’s interests and deter North Korean aggression. If the Defense Department conducts an objective appraisal, there may be ways to reduce America’s footprint or shift some additional burden to South Korea, but the Pentagon will also find that a significant U.S. military withdrawal from South Korea would be unwise, even dangerous.34


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Yonhap – Abrams says USFK will get COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s authorized

Yonhap | By Choi Soo-hyang and Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (Yonhap) — The first batch of a coronavirus vaccine for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is expected to be shipped to South Korea as soon as it is approved for emergency use, Gen. Robert Abrams said Monday.

The USFK commander made the remark in an interview with the American Forces Network radio station, saying the vaccine to be used for overseas U.S. personnel is likely to be Moderna’s, though the U.S. has begun distributing Pfizer’s vaccine across the country.

“We expect that to happen anytime soon … probably in the next week or so,” Abrams said of emergency use authorization (EUA) for Moderna’s vaccine. “So I think we’ll see the vaccine, you know get shipped as soon as the EUA is approved.”

Abrams said it could be “well into the new year” before USFK sees a COVID vaccine.

“But it is coming,” he said.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a release that Allgood Army Community Hospital inside Camp Humphreys in South Korea will be one of four sites outside the continental U.S. that will receive the initial vaccination.

The commander said it could take as long as until the upcoming spring for all of the USFK members to be vaccinated as the doses will be rolled out in stages. The first doses will go to USFK’s medical personnel and first responders.

“The first priority when we finally get our first shipment, it’ll be focused on health care, emergency services personnel and critical support, and then as the production line really kicks in, as more and more comes in there, there are various tiers that will come out of it,” Abrams said.

While noting that getting the vaccination is voluntary, the commander said he “highly” encourages its members to get the vaccine, saying it is “pretty safe.”

“Whenever it gets here, you know, I’m happy to step into the breach,” the general said.

The remarks came as South Korea reported its largest daily caseload ever of 1,030 new coronavirus cases Sunday, setting yet another fresh high after reporting 950 cases the previous day.

Over the past few weeks, the country has reported hundreds of daily new cases due to locally transmitted cases from the greater Seoul area, which houses around half of the nation’s 51 million population.

Abrams, however, said that he “got supreme confidence” that South Korean health authorities “will be successful in suppressing this most recent outbreak.”

In the Nov. 13, 2020, file photo, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Robert Abrams delivers a congratulatory speech at a forum titled "Estimates on International Security Environment and South Korea's Strategies for Survival" at the War Memorial in Seoul. (Yonhap)

In the Nov. 13, 2020, file photo, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Robert Abrams delivers a congratulatory speech at a forum titled “Estimates on International Security Environment and South Korea’s Strategies for Survival” at the War Memorial in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Up until Monday, USFK has reported a total of 434 COVID-19 patients, most of whom tested positive upon arrival here.

Asked about the need for mandatory pre-departure testing for all service members, Abrams said he made the very suggestion to the U.S. government, but it does not have “a robust testing capability” and such an initial test does not guarantee that entrants will be COVID-19 free.

Currently, only U.S. Army members are required to have a negative test result prior to their departure for South Korea. The rule does not apply to those from other branches of service.

“There is zero chance of that virus getting spread to either other people on our bases or to the Korean people because of the strict control that we have of those folks,” Abrams said.

All USFK-affiliated individuals arriving in South Korea are required to undergo a virus test and quarantine for 14 days. Medical personnel administer a second test prior to their release. A total of 82 patients have been confirmed in their second test so far, according to the commander.

As for recent incidents where USFK service members held parties at their bases without wearing masks and ignoring social distancing rules, Abrams said, “That is unacceptable, so we are going to own it and put measures in place.”

Despite physical distancing, Abrams urged its members to “maintain touch and contact” with each other to minimize diverse risks associated with less interpersonal connections in this time of the pandemic and winter. A USFK official said that the command sees an increase of suicide attempts during the winter season.


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Military Times – 28,500 troops affected as USFK ramps up to HPCON Charlie for greater Seoul metro area

U.S. Forces Korea is raising its Health Protection Condition to Charlie “out of an abundance of caution to protect the force” for the greater Seoul metropolitan area.

That’s up from HPCON Bravo, which the Department of Defense says means that the risk is moderate and there has been an increase in community transmissions. In comparison, HPCON Charlie stipulates the risk is substantial and there has been sustained community transmission.

The update to HPCON Charlie will take effect on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. and impacts a total of 28,500 U.S. military personnel and 58,000 USFK-affiliated members.

“To minimize the potential exposure to others, only mission essential individuals will report for duty with all others conducting telework,” USFK said in a news release.

That also means that USFK-affiliated personnel are barred from visiting locations including bars, clubs, karaoke rooms, off-installation gyms and fitness facilities, and places with eat-in seated dining. Take-out delivery is still permitted though.

Only travel for official and necessary duties in the greater Seoul region, known as Area II, is authorized for the time being. Exceptions require a policy letter signed by an O-6 or equivalent civilian supervisor from the individuals chain of command.

Soldiers stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Casey conduct pre-screening processes on individuals awaiting entry to the base, USAG-Casey, Dongducheon, Republic of Korea, Feb. 26, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

“The continued hard-work and diligence of the ROK government, KDCA and local communities to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus has been remarkable.”

A USFK soldier stationed at Camp Carroll was the first U.S. service member to test positive for COVID-19 back in February. The 23-year-old soldier was declared virus-free after 49 days in isolation in April.


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