LaPorte sees shift of most Yongsan Garrison troops to Camp Humphreys
Stars and Stripes June 5, 2003
SEOUL — The United States and South Korea agree: About 6,000 of the 7,000 soldiers stationed at Yongsan Garrison should move to Camp Humphreys, Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, U.S. Forces Korea commander, told South Korean lawmakers Tuesday.
The statement to the National Assembly represented the first hard data released on how the U.S. military might realign forces in South Korea since since senior U.S. and South Korean officials announced the proposed move in April. LaPorte gave the lawmakers no timetable.
“We think it’s inappropriate to have that many [U.S. soldiers] in the capital,” LaPorte said.
U.S. and South Korean officials were to hold a second meeting of the “U.S.-ROK Alliance Policy Initiative” Wednesday at the Defense Ministry, said Air Force Lt. Col. Michael G. Caldwell, a USFK spokesman. Discussions may include moving Yongsan Garrison facilities and repositioning the 2nd Infantry Division.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also addressed possible troop movement in South Korea this week.
“Of course, any basic changes we make to our ground posture here will affect the 2nd Infantry Division,” Wolfowitz said during a news conference Monday in Seoul, according to a Reuters report. “That’s the heart of what we have here in peacetime.”
U.S. officials say troop movements on the peninsula will not effect readiness.
About 1,000 soldiers would remain at Yongsan, LaPorte said. Two commands — the Combined Forces Command and the U.N. Command — would remain there, as would LaPorte’s office.
Congress has said it will fund no more infrastructure improvements at Yongsan, LaPorte said, but would commit $220 million to Camp Humphreys if South Korea buys land there.
Under the status of forces agreement, South Korea must pay for relocating U.S. forces if it wishes them to move. U.S. officials say they’re willing to relinquish Yongsan if adequate replacement facilities are provided.
In years past, discussions were derailed by estimates the move would cost South Korea’s government billions of dollars. LaPorte said the Defense Ministry needs the National Assembly’s help to ensure that U.S. forces can reduce its presence in Seoul.
He discussed at length how the United States will invest $11 billion over the next four years to match North Korea’s investments in its military.
“North Korea has over 800 missiles, and we would be foolish not to develop countermeasures,” LaPorte said.
But the investments — such as upgrading Patriot missiles, Apache attack helicopters and command and control systems — are made to guarantee the safety of Seoul, the hub of South Korea’s government and economy, LaPorte said. South Korea’s annual defense budget is about $15 billion.
“The investment should not be misunderstood,” LaPorte said. “This is not an investment in an offensive capability.”
LaPorte’s speech marked the first time a U.S. area commander has spoken to South Korean lawmakers, said South Korean Air Force Col. Jun Dong-ki, National Assembly liaison.
It followed a high-level two-day visit by Wolfowitz, who also hosted 24 National Assembly members at U.S. Ambassador Thomas A. Hubbard’s home.
U.S. officials are advocating that South Korea invest more in its own military, Jun said. LaPorte told lawmakers South Korea should make “comparable” and “complimentary” investments in its armed forces.
Later this summer, an Army stryker brigade will come to South Korea for seven days of training, LaPorte said. The brigade uses wheeled vehicles that can be carried in C-17 cargo planes and deployed quickly. In the next four months, upgraded Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles will replace older models deployed at air bases, LaPorte said.
This week, 21 new Apache Longbow helicopters — with upgraded firing capability and sensors — will join the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment at Camp Humphreys, LaPorte said. The USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, will upgrade its older fighters to F-18F Super Hornets, LaPorte said, increasing capabilities for South Korea.
Kim Yong-kyun, a National Assembly member, said many South Koreans fear the United States will leave the country.
The new weapons systems are needed to protect South Korea, he said, as North Korea contends it is developing nuclear weapons.
Speaking of North Korea, he said: “Maybe they will abstain from going too far.”
Choe Song-won contributed to this report.