Base shift report garners little reaction in Pacific
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. military officials in the Pacific region had little comment on a Congressional Budget Office report warning large troop shifts in Europe and Asia could come with a high cost and little financial benefit down the road.
U.S. Forces Korea officials said they had not read the report. On Wednesday, a spokesman referred questions about the report and the USFK relocation plan to Pacific Command.
Pacific Command officials did not answer requests for comment on the report, which also studied potential troop relocation plans for forces in Japan. Pentagon officials familiar with the report said Tuesday the overall plans to adjust troop locations worldwide were about strategic concerns, not financial ones.
The CBO study examined options ranging from maintaining current force levels to cutting them in half to returning almost all forces stateside.
According to the report, the 28,000 Army troops (minus 3,600 soon to be deployed to Iraq) and 10,000 Air Force personnel in South Korea are of concern because of four major issues: “the condition and location of U.S. bases in South Korea, the instability in Army units that results partly from supporting large numbers of one-year tours, the quality of life of soldiers assigned to those tours and whether Army units based in South Korea should be made more available to respond to conflicts elsewhere in the region.”
In recent years, military officials have implemented programs addressing those issues. The Land Partnership Plan addresses the location and condition of bases, moving them out of heavily populated areas and into military hubs with newer facilities.
New programs, such as the Assignment Incentive Pay bonus for volunteering to stay in South Korea longer, already have enticed thousands of soldiers to extend tours and save the Army on the costs of permanent-changes-of-station.
This week’s decision to send the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division appears to address the concern about using peninsula-based troops for other needs.
And, the report’s authors acknowledge, the option of moving all but 1,000 U.S. troops here to bases elsewhere likely will not happen as long as North Korea poses a security threat to the region.
In terms of the LPP, which eliminates 18 older U.S. bases in South Korea, the report estimates construction costs at close to $2.2 billion. Under previous agreements, the CBO said, the U.S. share of that would be $350 million; the Korean government is trying to renegotiate its share of the burden.
Another alternative studies consolidating all U.S. forces in South Korea onto Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base. This option would put the forces outside of North Korean artillery range, make supporting dependents easier and thereby increase accompanied tours from the current 10 percent to 25 percent.
The CBO report estimates the cost of this alternative at $4 billion in construction, with another $100 million in actual moving costs. The increased number of accompanied tours would cost the military $25 million annually, the report estimated.