Leadership of Joint Security Area at DMZ transferred to S. Koreans
November 3, 2004
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — In a low-key end to more than fifty years of history, U.S. troops quietly transferred leadership of the security mission at the Joint Security Area to South Korean forces on Sunday, officials confirmed Monday.
The mission handover, long scheduled to occur on Oct. 31, is one of 10 to be transferred gradually to South Korean forces under a plan to give them a greater role in defending their country, officials said.
The handover was in the works for weeks, officials said, and was completed Sunday. U.S. Forces Korea said no formal ceremony was held to mark the mission transfer.
In practice, the handover means the number of U.S. troops working at the truce village of Panmunjom has been reduced from about 220 to around 40, with most of those remaining in an administrative capacity. The Joint Security Battalion, of which those U.S. troops will remain a part, manages security in the JSA, where the armistice agreement ending the Korean War was signed.
For years, U.S. and South Korean troops were responsible for joint patrols along the Demilitarized Zone, which runs the length of Korea and often is called the world’s most heavily fortified border.
But under agreements reached over the past several years, most of those patrol missions have been handed over to the South Korean military. U.S. forces remained at Outpost Ouellette until this week, handing it over as part of the mission transfer.
Outpost Ouellette is about 75 feet from the Military Demarcation Line, which constitutes the two Koreas’ border; observers can see the North Korean city of Kaesong. Presidents including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have visited the spot.
The JSA also is the site of the infamous “ax murders” in which two U.S. Army officers were hacked to death by a group of North Korean soldiers. The U.S. officers, Capt. Arthur Bonifas and 1st Lt. Mark Barrett, were killed Aug. 18, 1976, as they led a group that was to trim a tree obscuring areas of the JSA.
At least 89 U.S. soldiers died in the 1960s and 1970s from ambushes, downed aircraft, land mines and other actions near the DMZ, Pentagon records state.
Among other military functions the South Koreans will assume are decontamination missions for chemical, biological or nuclear weapons; the laying of land mines; and counter-artillery, South Korean officials have said.