Commander of the U.S. Forces Korea Gen. Walter Sharp admitted Thursday that South Korea and the U.S. conducted exercises aimed at "stabilizing" North Korea in the event of regime collapse there.
Sharp was speaking to reporters at the U.S. garrison in Yongsan, Seoul in reply to question whether a stabilization drill was part of an annual drill dubbed "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" last month, which saw unusually large numbers from both sides participate.
"We are designing our exercises to make sure that both the [South Korean] and U.S. forces are not only able to defend, not only able to attack and kill, but also able to provide humanitarian assistance for the security and stability of the people," he said.
They envisage the North Korean regime unable to maintain public order in a civil war, or the South Korean and U.S. combined forces trying to maintain public security in North Korea in case it provokes a war.
No USFK commander so far has openly mentioned such drills, which experts speculate were included as part of a new contingency operation plan the two allies are working out.
Sharp also noted that it is important to apply the lessons the U.S. military took from its drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Korean Peninsula. "One of the lessons is that you can be fighting and attacking one area, and in another area the main mission is to stabilize and protect the population," he said.
Another lesson from the two wars is that the whole government should be involved in the stabilization operations if they are to succeed, he said. "The other thing we are applying here is that especially in the stabilization area, it is really the whole of the government. It is not just the military that has to be united in order to achieve victory."
"So we try very hard and the Combined Forces Command work very closely not only with the U.S. Embassy but also with all of the [South Korean] government, especially during the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, in order to make sure that both military and civilian operations are synchronized," he added.
Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the deputy CFC commander, said, "Ground troops will play the most important role in carrying out stabilization operations. The operations will be carried out in a way that can make the most of the strong points of the South Korean and U.S. militaries."
But an officer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned against making too much of this. "As we've done annually, during last month's Ulchi Freedom Guardian we merely practiced stabilizing the rear area of the North in case the South Korean and U.S. combined forces advance there. It was in no way a preparation for a specific sudden change in the North."