December 14, 2015 14:16
The epic relocation of U.S. Forces Korea headquarters from Yongsan in Seoul to Pyeongtaek will not be completed by the 2016 deadline.
Korea and the U.S. decided last Thursday to face the reality, which announced to the press by Kim Kie-soo, who heads the project on the Korean side, and Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux, the U.S. Eighth Army commander.
Kim blamed "unexpected things" like the bankruptcy of a contractor and changes in U.S. policy, rather than bad planning or management. But Kim promised the relocation will start next year and be completed in 2017. He also claimed there would be "no obstacles" to converting the Yongsan garrison into a park over the scheduled 2019-2027 period.
The original decision to move USFK headquarters and some other bases further south from the demilitarized zone was made in April 2003 by then President Roh Moo-hyun and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush. The new site in Pyeongtak, Gyeonggi Province, was decided the following year.
Construction is 86 percent complete, with builders still busy buildings, roads, water supply and drainage.
The new Pyeongtaek base measures 14.7 million sq.m, 5.5 times the size of Seoul’s Yeouido. It is so vast that the limits cannot be seen even from the 12th floor of a building in the site.
It will house 513 buildings -- 287 for the USFK and 226 for the Korean military -- and become the U.S. military's biggest overseas compound in the world.
Champoux claimed the relocation, once complete, will massively improve the USFK's readiness to combat threats from North Korea.
Troops and equipment can be transported by rail, and U.S. reinforcements arriving in an emergency will have a shorter distance to travel because Pyeongtaek Port and the U.S. air base in Osan lie within 20 km of the camp, a military spokesman said.
But the relocation is by no means total. The U.S. 210th Field Artillery Brigade will stay put in Dongducheon until Korea can take over the brigade's mission on its own. The brigade is a core unit that would launch strikes on the North Korean frontline artillery in a full-scale war.
Local opposition to the relocation seems to have melted away. In the place of Daechuri Village, which had to make way for the project and became a galvanizing point for protests, now stand a dozen nondescript buildings including a vehicle maintenance facility and officer housing.
A military spokesman said some of the most vociferous protestors, like Fr. Moon Jeong-hyeon who pledged to defend Daechuri "to the end," have not been back to Pyeongtaek since the media attention faded and are now busy protesting against a naval base in Jeju.
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