Jitters Mount over USFK Reduction

  • By Yu Yong-weon, Kim Jin-myung

    July 31, 2020 11:28

    Worries are mounting here over the threat of a reduction of the U.S. Forces Korea after Washington on Wednesday announced the pullout of about 12,000 troops from Germany.

    There is speculation that the USFK will be another reduction target if U.S. President Donald Trump stays in office long enough to push it through since he is demanding more money for their upkeep than Seoul is willing to pay.

    Trump harped on his favorite theme on Wednesday amid plummeting approval ratings. "We spend a lot of money on Germany, they take advantage of us on trade and they take advantage on the military, so we're reducing the force," he told reporters. "We don't want to be responsible any more."

    In Korea there are rumors that the USFK's Apache helicopter battalion could pull out, despite recent denials from the Defense Ministry here about any discussion over USFK reduction.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department announced that James DeHart, who had been leading the stalled defense cost-sharing talks with Korea, has moved to coordinator for the Arctic region. No successor has been announced.

    "It would not be surprising at all if Trump made the same decision on Korea as long as did in Germany," a diplomatic source said.

    Through a separate diplomatic channel, Washington has demanded a 13 percent increase in USFK upkeep costs each year under a three-year deal, but Seoul is unlikely to bite.

    A source in Washington said Wednesday, "I understand that Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun offered a 13.6 percent increase for the first year under a three-year deal," when he was on a visit in Seoul on July 7-9.

    In late April, Seoul made a final offer of a five-year deal, including a 13 percent hike in the first year and a seven to eight percent each year thereafter.

    "Trump hasn't approved this plan yet," the source added. It appears Korea is more and more minded to sit out Trump and negotiate with his successor on the assumption that he loses the November presidential election.

    The rumors about the Apache battalion, meanwhile, seem to stem from its comparative inactivity here recently. According to data from military authorities, the battalion has trained only for 40 days this year although it needs training for at least 64 days a year.

    The USFK had to stop helicopter live-fire training at Rodriguez live fire range in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province in the face of protest from locals and then encountered another round of protest from locals in a different shooting range in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.

    "Apache helicopter pilots will have serious difficulties including reduced paychecks and disadvantages in promotions unless they train themselves for a certain amount of time," a military source said. "For this reason, their commander must try to provide them with an appropriate training environment," if necessary somewhere else.

    When the battalion was redeployed here in 2017, the USFK included a guaranteed proper training environment as a condition for its redeployment, another military source said.

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