April 25th, 2007 10:36 EST
U.S. Commanders Continue to Watch North Korea, Push for Three-Year Tours
The top U.S. commander in Korea urged Congress yesterday to help him introduce standard three-year rotational tours for military forces in South Korea over the next several years.
Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current “dysfunctional, one-year, war-zone rotational tour mechanism” has outlived its day.
Fifty-four years after the end of the Korean War, Bell said it’s time to end the arrangement that needlessly adds to the already-high U.S. worldwide operational tempo. At the same time, Bell said, it handicaps readiness and engagement opportunities with South Korea.
“I’m abdicating three-year, normal accompanied tours as an objective and a goal that we should work toward in Korea, and I would appreciate your support as I work this initiative over the next several years,” he told the panel.
Bell joined Navy Adm. Timothy Keating, who took the helm of U.S. Pacific Command in March, in updating the Senate committee about U.S. military operations in Korea in light of the fiscal 2008 defense budget request.
Both commanders reported a healthy U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance that has successfully deterred North Korean aggression since the war’s end.
“Our mission in Korea has been a resounding success and serves as a model for military response to aggression, leading to peace, prosperity and democracy,” Bell said.
Bell reported progress in moving U.S. troops to south of Seoul. This move, being paid for largely by the South Korean government, will improve troops’ living and working conditions and increase their strategic and operational flexibility, he said.
The next milestone for the alliance will be in 2012, when the two countries transition operational command and control of Republic of Korea military forces in wartime to an independent ROK military command. Currently these forces fall under Combined Forces Command, which will be inactivated as a new U.S. independent warfighting command is established in Korea, Bell said.
Throughout this process, the United States “will retain clear national command over all of our forces and personnel,” he said.
As these advances take shape, the commanders said they’re continuing to watch North Korea closely to ensure it complies with promises made in February to abandon its nuclear programs.
North Korea’s promises to shut down its nuclear facilities and allow inspectors into the country represent an assuring step forward, Keating told the committee. That promise was the outcome of the Six-Party Talks in Beijing that involved the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.
“Six-party progress is, while not rapid, … no less an important step toward providing peace and security on the peninsula,” Keating said.
Bell expressed hope that North Korea will make good on its word, but acknowledged concerns about North Korea’s long-term intentions. “We all remain hopeful that the progress made in the last round of Six-Party Talks will result in a denuclearized Korea,” he said.
He expressed concern, however, over North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s “history of manipulating the international community in an attempt to shape the political and military environment to meet his objectives.”
Bell cited North Korea’s “highly provocative military actions this past year,” including unprecedented missile firings and detonation of a nuclear device. These, he said, “present a continuing threat to international peace and security worldwide.”
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service