Sharp Emphasizes Need for U.S.-South Korea Alliance
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2011 While the U.S.-South Korean troop alliance works to secure and stabilize Northeast Asia, it still faces threats from North Korea, the U.S. Forces Korea commander said today.
The United States maintains forces on the Korean peninsula to deter North Korean provocations and aggressions, and if deterrence fails, to fight and win, Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
As evidence of North Korea’s recent brutality, Sharp pointed to the North’s unprovoked attacks that sank the South Korean ship Cheonon and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. The 2010 attacks killed 50 South Koreans.
“The alliance stands ready to address a full spectrum of conflict that could emerge on the Korean peninsula,” Sharp said. “Maintaining this preparedness is accomplished through… a continual refinement of our bilateral plans to deter and defeat aggression.”
Those plans, he said, can be continued through annual joint, combined and interagency exercises to maintain its “fight tonight” readiness.
Successful execution of these bilateral plans requires a well-trained force, and three annual joint, combined and interagency exercises.
Sharp called the exercises “key enablers for maintaining the fight-tonight readiness, while also preparing for the future transition of wartime operational control” to South Korea.
Another priority, Sharp said, is to strengthen the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, in support of the June 2009 joint presidential vision statement between the two countries.
“A strong alliance better deters North Korean provocative acts and promotes a peaceful, secure and prosperous future for the Korean peninsula, the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole,” Sharp said.
Last year, President Barack Obama agreed with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to adjust the timing of the transition of wartime operational control to South Korea from April 2012 to December 2015, Sharp noted.
Obama also agreed to develop a plan “to better synchronize all the ongoing transformation initiatives of which [operational control] transition is just one of the elements,” he said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young signed Strategic Alliance 2015 at a consultative meeting in October, Sharp noted. The plan synchronizes U.S. and South Korean efforts to build adaptive and flexible capabilities to deter aggression, he said.
Repositioning U.S. forces to Camp Humphries at Osan Air Base south of Seoul improves force readiness, Sharp said, and allows for the consolidation of forces onto two enduring hubs.
Normalizing tours in Korea, Sharp said, will improve readiness, combat capability, and lower turbulence in units and reduce the stress placed on troops and families.
Gates approved the normalization plan in December 2008, paving the way for longer, accompanied tours for the 28,500 U.S. service members stationed throughout South Korea. For many years, the tour of duty in Korea was one year, and unaccompanied by family members.
Sharp told the committee his command’s support of the Strategic Initative 2015, the U.S. troops' relocation and other initiatives, demonstrate a long U.S. commitment to securing South Korea and the region.