U.S. Forces Korea aide calls into question OPCON plans

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Oct. 27 (UPI) — The combined defense system currently in place in South Korea is coming under question from a senior aide in U.S. Forces Korea.

Ham Ji-min, a USFK assistant chief of staff, said in an editorial published to South Korean newspaper Maeil Business on Tuesday changes on the Korean Peninsula should be followed by evolution in security policy.

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“As diplomatic power, intelligence power, military power, economic power are being developed through the comprehensive strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance in response to the current North Korean nuclear threat and denuclearization efforts, it can be inferred there is no need to adhere to the U.S.-Korea combined defense system,” Ham said.

The USFK aide said the plan to transition to a combined forces command under a South Korean general may not be optimal. Earlier this month, U.S. defense officials were not in agreement to complete the transfer before May 2022, the end of President Moon Jae-in’s term, according to the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Rather, U.S. and South Korean militaries exercising their respective operational control rights over their own troops, while conducting joint training and operations, can be more realistic and more effective than a four-star general of the South Korean military in operational control of the U.S.-Korea allied forces in an emergency,” Ham said.

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. There are 28,500 U.S. troops in Korea.

The future of OPCON is under scrutiny as South Korean lawmakers are looking for answers on U.S. troop levels following the 52nd Security Consultative Meeting between U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook on Oct. 14. Military chiefs issued a statement that left out references to troop levels on the peninsula.

Suh said during a parliamentary audit in Seoul on Tuesday the omission reflects the U.S. policy of troop adjustments around the globe, JoongAng Ilbo reported.

In July, Esper said the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy includes the possibility of relocation of U.S. troops under each command.