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U.S. to Transfer 10 Missions to South Korean Military

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2003 – The United States is transferring some of its military missions in South Korea to that country's military.

Officials of both countries have agreed on 10 missions currently handled by U.S. service members in South Korea that could be handed over in the near future. They agreed to the missions in Future of the Alliance, or FOTA, talks conducted over the past year.

South Korea is ready to take over eight of the 10, according to Minister of National Defense Cho Yung Kil. Officials need more time to prepare to take over the remaining two.

Information on the first eight missions has not been released to the public. However, Cho spoke of the remaining two, that will take more time, at a joint press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Nov. 17 in Seoul, South Korea. The secretary traveled to Guam, Japan and South Korea Nov. 13-18, visiting U.S. forces and allies.

Cho said that political concerns and the Republic of Korea army's capabilities will result in a delay in transferring responsibility for maintaining the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone and for running a headquarters for countering missile fire from North Korea.

"It would be somewhat premature to implement this change immediately," Cho said.

In an interview with media traveling with Rumsfeld, Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of all U.S. and combined forces in Korea, explained these two missions in depth as well as the reason for the delay in transferring them.

"Because we cannot suffer a drop or a falloff in readiness, we must maintain our capabilities all the time," he said. "Two of the missions, the Joint Security Area and counterfire missions, require more coordination for equipment and training."

South Korea will take over the JSA mission in October 2004, LaPorte said, with counterfire following in the fall of 2005.

The JSA mission entails security for the "truce village" at Panmunjom, where U.S. and South Korean officials meet with representatives of the North Korean government. "The North Koreans have a significant amount of artillery, some of which can range this building," LaPorte said of the Seoul hotel in which the interview was conducted. "If the North Koreans were to launch an attack, they would shoot a significant amount of artillery."

The counterfire headquarters is responsible for "attacking the missiles above," he said. The United States and South Korea both have anti-missile technologies on the peninsula and are very interoperable.

The general explained that it is not such a stretch for the South Koreans to handle the mission because they already have the necessary equipment. "The question is, do they have it in ample supplies for all the headquarters," he said, adding that counterfire will be the last of the current 10 missions slated to be transferred.

The ROK and U.S. militaries have been working together to increase their capabilities and interoperability. "Both are increasing air-defense capabilities, intelligence, and commandand-control capabilities," LaPorte said. This allows "tremendous interoperability within the forces. That's why we're able to do some of these mission transfers, because for years we've invested in equipment that was interoperable between the two militaries."

He noted the ROK counterfire headquarters will continue to be supported by American air, ground and naval forces "because our systems allow us to do that."

LaPorte said the 10 missions agreed upon to this point might not be the last to be transferred. The FOTA talks were scheduled to last two years. "So we're going to continue to look at roles, functions, missions, force dispositions and see where we can improve," he said. "And if there's more to do, then that's what we're going to do."

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