South Korea to reclaim wartime OPCON in April 2012

Posted on : 2007-02-24 11:02 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST

South Korea will reclaim wartime operational control of its forces from the United States as of April 17, 2012, the two countries announced Friday.

The South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) will simultaneously be disbanded, according to a joint press statement issued by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The agreement resolves one of the most controversial bilateral issues as Seoul and Washington continue to redefine a military alliance that dates back to the 1950-1953 Korean War, when American soldiers fought with South Korea against North Korea's invasion.

Following the disbandment of CFC, the two countries will adopt a new "supporting-supported command relationship," the joint statement said.

The United Nations Command, which oversees the armistice that ended the Korean War, will remain in place.

A roadmap for the transfer of operational control would commence in July this year, and it will be tested in a joint certification exercise in March 2012. After roughly two weeks of review on the outcome of the drill, the transfer will become official as of April 17 that year.

There will be prior test drills from 2010 during the South Korea-U.S. Ulchi Focus Lens maneuvers held every August, at which potential problems will be resolved. The final certification drill in March 2012 will be led entirely by the South Korean side.

Defense Minister Kim met privately with Secretary Gates for some 20 minutes in what was their first meeting. The talks continued over a luncheon attended by officials from both countries.

The defense chiefs reaffirmed earlier agreements on relocating U.S. forces out of Seoul and pledged close cooperation on their implementation.

They discussed the importance of joint readiness to counter North Korea's conventional, nuclear and missile threats and agreed that the military alliance between their countries is capable of defending against security challenges from the North.

They also agreed on the importance of training and exercises to maintaining a high-level of combined warfighting capability, the statement said.

Seoul and Washington have been reassessing their respective roles in military relations, with South Korea wanting to assume larger responsibilities in national defense while the U.S. takes on a supporting position.

Operational control became a focal point as South Korea desired to command its own forces during wartime. The U.S. side currently has the command after South Korea voluntarily handed it over during the Korean War.

Seoul regained peacetime operational control of its troops in 1994.

The timing of the transfer was much debated between the two countries, with the Pentagon pushing for an earlier 2010 date while Seoul argued for 2012.

Although officials won't go on record, they indicated that the U.S. met South Korea's request after the departure of "more hawkish" figures in the George W. Bush administration.

"There was a lot of flexibility on the U.S. part. The atmospherics in Washington has changed much," Jeon Jei-guk, South Korea's assistant defense minister for policy, told reporters at a briefing.

The U.S. agreed to the year 2012 because it acceded to South Korea's argument that the extra time is necessary to sufficiently conduct test drills, he said.

Jeon reaffirmed that the transfer of operational control would not compromise U.S. military augmentation at times of contingencies.

"The transfer is being made under the guarantee of such U.S. forces augmentation," he said.

South Korea already has its own established plans to become capable of independent command by 2012, Jeon said.

Still to be pinpointed is the date for relocation of U.S. bases and forces and return of the land used by the U.S. Forces Korea.

The relocation was initially planned to be completed by the end of next year, but it is likely to be delayed to as late as 2013.

"We did not discuss specific dates at today's meeting," Jeon said.

"The (relocation) plan is being delayed for variety of reasons, and we agreed to together search for ways to expedite the process."

Washington, Feb. 23 (Yonhap News)