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SEOUL — U.S. and South Korean forces will operate under three military commands — one American and two South Korean — after South Korea takes over wartime control of all troops in the country in 2012.

The biggest change will be the inactivation of the Combined Forces Command, now headed by a U.S. general. Two new commands will take its place: the U.S. Korea Command, and the South Korean Joint Forces Command, headed by a South Korean general who would lead the militaries during war.

"This is much more than a renaming of commands. It is a transformation of how we perform the military mission in South Korea," U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Dave Palmer said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

If a war broke out in South Korea today, the top U.S. general on the peninsula would lead South Korean and U.S. troops. That leader — now Gen. Walter Sharp — heads U.S. Forces Korea, the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command.

The United States and South Korea announced plans to transfer wartime control to South Korea several years ago, but USFK has not described the command structure until now. The planned transfer is to take place at 10 a.m. on April 17, 2012.

USFK will be replaced by the U.S. Korea Command, or KORCOM, to be headquartered in Pyeongtaek and led by a four-star general. That command will support but not be subordinate to South Korea’s Joint Forces Command, Palmer said.

The third command, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, exists today and is similar to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The current U.N. Command will remain, with the senior U.S. military officer in South Korea as commander.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise in August was the first major test of the new command structure. The exercise was designed by U.S. military leaders, but South Korean generals made warfighting decisions without U.S. help, Sharp said.

He said South Korea exceeded his expectations during the exercise, but the militaries were "somewhere between a crawl and a walk" in their ability to operate under the new structure.

That was good news, he said.

"That’s a positive thing for the first time you ever stand up three new headquarters, and have to figure out how the headquarters function," he said. Sharp said the biggest problem during the exercise was ensuring military leaders from both countries get the same information during wartime, because they will operate from different buildings.

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