American Forces Press
WASHINGTON -- Forty-five years after an
armistice ended fighting on the Korean Peninsula,
the need for United States-backed deterrence and
defense remains critical to Asian stability in
general and South Korea in particular. Training
side-by-side, U.S. and Republic of Korea combat
units prepare for war but hope for peace.
beginning, the U.S. military presence in South
Korea has been based on a Republic of Korea-United
States defense partnership. U.S. troops first
entered Korea shortly after World War II to accept
the surrender of Japanese forces south of the 38th
parallel. The Soviet Union took the Japanese
surrender north of the parallel, which divides the
Peninsula at its "waist."
allies had agreed at Cairo in 1943 that Korea would
be a free and independent nation, the Soviets soon
sealed the 38th parallel, splitting the country in
two. The United Nations supervised democratic
elections in the South, but Russia appointed
Kim-Il-Sung leader in the North. With these
arbitrary political lines drawn, the United States
and Soviet Union pulled their occupation forces
from the Peninsula. By mid-1949, only a small U.S.
advisory group remained to help train the new South
Korean defensive force.
Nobody in America thought much about Korea until
war broke out one year later. Nobody would forget
what followed. The three-year conflict claimed more
than 140,000 U.S. casualties, including more than
33,000 killed in action. Although an armistice
ended outright hostilities in 1953, to this day
North Korea remains committed to a forced
reunification of the Peninsula under Communist
Korea is an outgrowth of the legal and moral
security commitment the United States made to South
Korea at the time of the war. Under UN Security
Council resolutions of 1950, the United States
Nations Command. The Republic of Korea-United
States Mutual Security Agreement of 1954 committed
both nations to assist each other in case of
Meegan and other members of the United
Nations Command Security Battalion / Joint
Security Area (UNCSB/JSA), Scout Platoon,
patrol the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Scout
Platoon conducts patrols of the DMZ on a
regular basis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior
Airman Jeffrey Allen)
was further strengthened in 1978 by establishment
Forces Command, an integrated headquarters
responsible for planning the defense of South Korea
and directing combat forces to defeat enemy
aggression. Today, U.S. Forces Korea operates as a
joint headquarters through which American combat
forces would be sent to the Combined Forces Command
fighting components. According to the Army
commander of U.S. Forces Korea, the mission has not
changed in 45 years.
"Since 65 percent of North Korea's forces are
forward deployed within 100 kilometers of the DMZ,
we must constantly be wary and watchful," Gen. John
Tilelli Jr. said. "Everyday, the Combined Republic
of Korea-U.S. alliance stands vigilant -- ready to
fight and win should the North Korean leadership
launch an attack. North Korea understands that it
is the combined ROK and U.S. alliance that prevents
them from achieving their ultimate goal of unifying
the Korean Peninsula under a Communist regime."
Tilelli, who also commands the Combined Forces
Command and serves as commander in chief of United
Nations Command, said the threat from the North
hasn't diminished over time. North Korea has made
steady progress in its surface-to-surface missile
capability, he said, and existing SCUD missiles
allow North Korea to target all of South Korea.
In August 1998, North Korea launched a two-stage
missile, the Taepo Dong 1, revealing its growing
offensive capability. The launch demonstrated that
the North now threatens Japan and U.S. bases
located there as well, Tilelli said. He said the
North continues on a course of developing longer
range missiles that may threaten other nations in
the region, as well.
intelligence assessments confirm North Korea also
could launch chemical weapons against the South.
Virtually all North Korean fire support systems can
deliver chemical weapons, and the North has
chemical defense units and trains for operations in
a chemical environment.
Tilelli said U.S. Forces Korea also is well
equipped and trained to operate in a chemically
contaminated environment. "With adequate warning
time, we would be able to mitigate the impact of a
chemical strike," he said. "However, in a surprise
attack scenario, chemical munitions would present a
significant operational difficulty to military
forces and greatly affect the South Korean people."
Members of the 36th
Fighter Squadron, Osan AB, Korea, search
the area for unexploded ordnance after a
simulated chemical attack during exercise
Foal Eagle, Oct. 28, 1998. Osan AB is
conducting a base wide exercise that is
designed to test and improve the ability
of air base personnel to function in a
chemical environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior
Airman Jeffrey Allen)
Tilelli said he believes, however, that North
Korea probably wouldn't use biological weapons
unless it could protect it's own forces.
Nonetheless, U.S. Forces Korea was one of the first
organizations to begin
inoculations in September 1998 after
Secretary William S. Cohen made the shots
mandatory across DoD. "The men and women serving in
Korea understand that should an adversary employ an
anthrax agent, we would not have time to inoculate
the force," Tilelli said. "So this is a prudent
Any North Korean attack of the south would be
met with an "overwhelming" response from the
combined ROK-U.S. forces, Tilelli said. He said the
combined forces have demonstrated "the appropriate
military response" during past provocations and
offer the right mix of capabilities to repel any
"U.S. forces bring
a range of intelligence gathering, command and
control and precision strike systems to the
alliance," Tilelli said. "Factor this in with the
approximately 700,000 South Korean members of the
armed forces, and the Command stands strong and
ready to deal with the formidable North Korean
About 35,700 U.S. service members are
assigned to Korea at any given time. Another 4,000
civilian employees are stationed there. Components
include the Eighth U.S. Army, Seventh Air Force,
U.S. Naval Force Korea, U.S. Marine Forces Korea
and Special Operations Command-Korea. Major
subordinate units include the 2nd Infantry
Division, 8th and 51st Fighter Wings, 19th TAACOM
and signal, military police and intelligence
Korean soldiers watch a repatriation
ceremony from a tower on the North Korean
side Military Demarkation Line (MDL).
(U.S. Air Force
photo by Senior Airman Jeffrey
Some 4,200 Korean soldiers serve with Eighth
Army units as fully integrated members. "We
couldn't do the job without them," Tilelli said.
In addition, the Navy's 7th Fleet and 3rd Marine
Expeditionary Force on Okinawa train and exercise
with USFK units year-round.
Training in Korea
differs from what you'd find, for example, at Fort
Hood, Texas. "We operate in a combined command
where two languages, two military structures and
two cultures work side-by-side," Tilelli explained.
"Fundamentally, we train 'joint and combined' every
day. We strengthen the ROK-US alliance as we work
and train together as one team."
Tilelli said the United States must be sensitive
to host-nation conditions, as well, in Korea.
"Korea has become increasingly urbanized in the
last 10 years, and there are few available ranges
and areas where we can operate and train
unencumbered," he said. "Both ROK and U.S. forces
must work out range schedules thoroughly so we
maximize the available training areas."
That said, training is nearly constant for
Korean-based American units, leading to a high
state of readiness, the general said. The 95
percent annual turnover rate requires training
plans that meet individual and collective unit
readiness objectives. "We are able to fire our
weapon systems, dive our tracks and fly our
helicopters on average more than many Continental
United States-based units," he said. "In essence,
our units are constantly training to ensure they
are ready to fight and win."
North Korea's unpredictability strengthens the
ROK-U.S. alliance, Tilelli said. "This alliance has
stood the test of time," he said. "We gather
strength from the knowledge that an unpredictable
North Korea is poised in a threatening and
offensive stance just a few miles away."
visit to the DMZ in January 1998, Defense Secretary
William S. Cohen called Korea "perhaps hottest
flash point in the world. As long as tensions
remain high, we have to have a strong deterrent."
William S. Cohen, during a visit to the
DMZ in January 1998.
Returning to Korea Jan. 14, Cohen praised the
efforts of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to
negotiate peaceful solutions with the North.
"We're living in a period of opportunity and
risk," he said. "President Kim's policy of engaging
North Korea and the four-party talks [between the
United States, China and the two Koreas] raise the
possibility of diplomatic progress for
reconciliation and peace."
However, North Korea's missile development
program and resistance to outside inspection of a
possible nuclear arms plant "threaten to frustrate
that promise," he said. "In the face of this
uncertainty, our policy is and must remain clear
and unwavering. We will maintain a strong deterrent
as we pursue dialogue with North Korea. But hopeful
diplomacy rests on the reality of that deterrence,
and our deterrence is stronger than ever."