U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. James Thurman, has proposed that Seoul and Washington keep the Combined Forces Command even after the handover of full operational control of Korean troops in December 2015. Thurman proposed that it should be headed by a Korean officer instead of the USFK chief, as at present.
The dismantlement of the CFC has been a core gripe of those opposed to the handover of wartime operational control to Seoul because they feared it could fatally weaken combat capabilities and let the U.S. off the hook in an emergency.
"Gen. Thurman made the offer," a government source said on Wednesday. "There is a possibility that this issue will be raised through official negotiating bodies from each side, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff." Thurman's offer is unprecedented since the U.S. military has never placed itself under another country's command.
So far Seoul and Washington have said that the transfer of full operational control will take place in December 2015 as scheduled and the CFC will be disbanded, to be replaced by a looser cooperative structure. Military sources say the offer by Thurman, who took command of the USFK in July last year, stems from the increased threat of North Korean provocations since Kim Jong-un took power and fears that dismantling the CFC could expose weaknesses in the joint defense.
Thurman's offer seems to stem from the recent shift in the Obama administration's foreign policy focus to Asia with the strategic aim to keep China in check.
The South Korean government and military apparently feel that Thurman's offer has many positive aspects. "We are concerned about a backlash from opposition lawmakers and other leftwing factions, but overall we believe the offer has many benefits for us," a military source said.