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US Military Facilities: Korea

It was reported by South Korean media that the Blue House National Security Council decided on 30 August 2019 to push actively for an early return of the remaining 26 US military bases in South Korea. Before the Seoul Defense Dialogue kicked off, speculation was running high that Washington may not send a senior official to take part, though the US embassy in Seoul announced at the last minute that US Forces Korea Commander General Robert Abrams would attend the forum.

The US returned four military bases to South Korea: Camps Eagle and Long in Wonju, Camp Market in Bupyeong and the Shea Range parcel at Camp Hovey in Dongducheon. The return of these installations were delayed for the past decade due to disagreement regarding costs and methods of decontamination. The two sides agreed at the 200th joint committee meeting of the Status of Forces Agreement at Camp Humphreys held 11 December 2019 that the bases be returned on the condition that the allies continue consultations on base decontamination. The two sides also agreed to initiate the return process of the Yongsan Garrison in accordance to SOFA rules.

South Koreas presidential office will work toward the early return of U.S. military bases set to be handed over to regional governments under the alliances relocation agreement. The decision was made on 30 August 2019 during a meeting of the National Security Council standing committee, presided by Director Chung Eui-yong. There are 26 U.S. military bases that are slated to move or have completed relocation. In particular, South Korea will seek to launch the process of reclaiming Yongsan Garrison in Seoul by years end. It also aims to win early returns of four bases including those in Wonju, Bupyeong and Dongducheon to mitigate the regions' social and economic problems caused by a protracted transition.

South Koreas Foreign Ministry has dismissed speculation that Seouls effort to secure the early return of U.S. military bases was politically motivated. A senior ministry official said on 02 September 2019 that Seoul and Washington have long discussed the issue and that it wouldnt be proper to link it with diplomatic and security issues related to tensions between Seoul and Tokyo. Seoul was known to have made the decision primarily because of growing concerns regarding pollution in and around some U.S. military bases and its risks to the environment and health of South Koreans living near the sites.

There are differences between Seoul and Washington on sharing the US Forces Korea (USFK) costs. Officials of the two countries signed a deal in February 2019, which states South Korea would raise its contribution to 1.04 trillion won ($863 million), a growth of 8.2 percent. South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo said Washington will seek $5 billion annual burden-sharing from Seoul. It would be tough for South Korea to bear. Trump said at a fund-raising event on 09 August 2019, "It was easier to get a billion dollars from South Korea than to get $114.13 from a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn." His tone is a huge blow to the self-esteem of South Koreans, whose nationalist sentiments are strong.

South Korea is located in northeastern Asia and is officially known as the Republic of Korea. It occupies the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is bounded on the north by North Korea, on the east by the Sea of Japan, on the southeast and south by the Korea Strait, which separates it from Japan, and on the west by the Yellow Sea. It has a total area of 98,484 sq km (38,025 sq mi), including numerous off-lying islands in the south and west, the largest of which is Cheju (area, 1829 sq km/706 sq mi). The state of South Korea was established in 1948 following the post-World War II partitioning of the peninsula between the occupying forces of the United States (in the south) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (in the north). North Korean armed forces invaded South Korea in June 1950, resulting in massive destruction to the nation.

The Republic of Korea subsequently had one of the most heavily defended borders in the world. Though the probability of conflict had remained low, the potential of hostilities occurring on the Korean peninsula was greater than in many other parts of the world.

The Korean War had never technically ended. In its place was a fragile armistice. On the 15th of every month the Korean government would hold civil defense drills. At 1400 hours the air raid sirens were sounded and everyone in South Korea was required to get off the streets and into the nearest building. As soon as you heard the sirens, you were to go inside, whether you were walking, riding a bicycle, or driving a military or civilian vehicle. About 20 minutes later, the "all clear" would sounded and everyone could resume their outside activities. Everyone was to comply with the regulation. If the 15th falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, the civil defense drill would be held on the nearest weekday.

At the outbreak of the Korean War the US did not have any airbases established in Korea. After some quick reconnaissance missions, the fledgling US Air Force identified several airfields they would have to use. The names of these fields were confusing (i.e. Pyonggang and Pyongyang) and hard to pronounce. As a result, Far East Air Forces (FEAF) decided to assign an alphanumeric designation to them. It started chronologically, the first field used, Pusan West would be K-1, Taegu K-2, etc.

However the chronological system faltered and a policy of designating K-bases seemed non-existent. This would explain why some fields were designated, but not used and other fields were used, but not identified. The most glaring example of this was the airfield of Hagaru-ri just south of the Chosin reservoir. Although major airlift operations were conducted there, as described in William M. Leary's "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime: Combat Cargo in the Korean War," the FEAF did not designate it a number. It was also important to note those operations originating from K-bases did not make up the entire air effort. Augmenting these activities were multiple role aircraft launched form aircraft carriers, cargo aircraft and heavy bombers from Japan, and helicopters from the Army bases located on the peninsula. Heliports were assigned similar numbers, using the letter R instead of K, but in time many of these were supplanted by named military installations that grew up around them.

The road network throughout the Republic of Korea was not to the same standard as the network in the US and most of Europe. It was often inadequate to support US Army traffic. Added to this was the industrial revolution, in many ways ongoing in South Korea through the 1980s and 1990s, which had seen an explosion in the number of cars and trucks in country. The industrial revolution had also seen a large-scale expansion of urbanized areas that further contributed to traffic congestion. Although road construction took place everywhere, it often did not keep pace with the influx of new vehicles.

Along with increased traffic congestion, a particular concern to military planners was the number of underclass bridges in country that would not support US Army tracked and wheeled vehicles. Many bridges that originally supported heavy traffic had grown old and showed signs of stress, making them difficult to classify. At the same time, the US Army was upgrading its primary main battle tanks to the then newer M1A1HA and introducing the Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET, consisting of the M1070 HET Tractor/M1000 HET Semitrailer). The combined weight of the HET transporting the improved M1 weighed out at Military Load Class 95, far above what most bridges in Korea would support. For this reason, movement plans often included down-loading tracks at underclass bridges. This had the potential to significantly increase convoy movement times. It could also add additional risk factors to the unit's movement.

As a result, a thorough risk assessment had to be performed for all convoy movements in Korea. Movement routes had to be thoroughly checked prior to convoy movement. This included inspecting movement routes to identify the best times of day (usually night) for movement, and checking all bridges for adequate load classification. Rock drop structures were common and of varied sizes throughout the 2nd Infantry Division area of operations. Many of these structures were too narrow to allow 2-way traffic when moving outsized vehicles such as the M1 Tank. In addition, some outsized vehicles would not fit through certain rock drops even if restricted to one-way traffic. On some routes there could be a double set of rock drops.

Some Koreans shared a view of the universe that might seem somewhat conspiratorial to Americans. Korea had been kicked or pushed around during much of the past century by the Japanese, the Communists and their own military. Many Koreans thought the US was nearly omnipotent, especially with the demise of the former Soviet Union. When the KCIA director assassinated President Park Chung Hee in 1979, some Koreans assumed the US was behind it or at least knew about it in advance. When Roh Tae Woo (1988-1993) won the 1987 presidential election, they thought the US arranged it. Had Kim Dae Jung (elected ROK President on 18 December 1997) been elected at the time, they would have assumed it was because the US had supported him. That was why some Koreans could not imagine that the US Army was not somehow involved with ROK Army's participation during the 1980 Kwangju incident. Others suspected the US was preparing to withdraw from Korea and was holding secret talks with North Korea unbeknownst to Seoul. Many had also thought the dispatch of Patriot missiles to USFK was motivated by a desire to sell them to the ROK.

The United States has been committed to maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and agreed in the 1954 U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty to help the Republic of Korea defend itself from external aggression. In support of this commitment, the United States had maintained about 37,000 service personnel in South Korea, including the Army's 2nd Infantry Division and several Air Force tactical squadrons. To coordinate operations between these units and the 650,000-strong South Korean Armed Forces, a Combined Forces Command (CFC) was established in 1978. The CFC was originally headed by General John Tilelli, who also served as commander in chief of the 16-member-nation UN Command (UNC) and the US Forces in Korea (USFK).

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Page last modified: 26-12-2019 18:26:03 ZULU