U.S. Backtracks on Troop Control Transfer

  • By Yu Yong-weon

    October 16, 2020 12:12

    The U.S. seems to be getting cold feet at the prospect of putting its troops on the Korean Peninsula under the command of a South Korean general in wartime.

    Troop control transfer was scheduled within the next two years, and South Korea is pushing to regain it before President Moon Jae-in's single, five-year term ends in 2022.

    Defense Minister Suh Wook (second left) and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper talk with other officials at the annual Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Wednesday.

    But U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in defense talks with his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook on Wednesday said the transfer will have to take time.

    Esper was noncommittal. "Fully meeting all the conditions for the transition of operational control to a [South Korean] commander will take time, but the process of doing so will strengthen our alliance," he said.

    But Suh said, "South Korea will make utmost efforts to meet the OPCON preconditions as early as possible and ensure that South Korea-led combined defense posture remains strong and seamless."

    A joint statement issued later specified that "conditions must be fully met" before the transfer can take place.

    Defense Minister Suh Wook (right) and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper pose for a photo at the Pentagon in Arlinton, Virginia on Wednesday, in this grab from Esper's Twitter account.

    The U.S. apparently bristles at the prospect because joint military exercises have been halted since 2018 as an unexpected gift from U.S. President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

    The coronavirus epidemic threw another spoke in the wheels, resulting in a lack of military preparedness. On top of that, North Korea earlier this month unveiled a massive new intercontinental missile and other weapons.

    The two allies had agreed to the troop control handover on condition that the South Korean military is able to deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats and when security conditions on the Korean Peninsula stabilize sufficiently. 

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