S. Korea media: Secret cables show government under reported cost of U.S. troop relocation
SEOUL — South Korea vastly under reported its share of the cost of a massive U.S. base relocation project to lawmakers and the public, according to U.S. diplomatic dispatches cited by the South Korean media Wednesday.
The dispatches, released by WikiLeaks, said Ministry of National Defense publicly stated that South Korea would pay for half of the project, but the U.S. estimated in 2007 that South Korea might be responsible for as much as 93 percent of the relocation to U.S. Army Garrison-Humphreys, then estimated at $10 billion.
“We are aware of the press reports,” U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington said in an email on Wednesday night. “We do not comment on the authenticity of the documents released by WikiLeaks and we strongly condemn any continued, illegal disclosure of classified U.S. Government information.”
The Ministry of National Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Under the overall relocation plan, most U.S. troops now stationed in and north of Seoul will relocate to two regional hubs in Pyeongtaek and Daegu by 2016. A key part of the plan is the expansion of Humphreys from a small helicopter installation to a sprawling mini-city where 17,000 U.S. troops will eventually be stationed, many with their families.
Military officials have most recently estimated the cost of the entire Humphreys expansion, which has included extensive landfill work, to be $13 billion.
According to South Korean media reports, an April 2, 2007, cable from then-U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow expressed concern about South Korea’s alleged reluctance to announce the cost of the project.
“USFK has encouraged MND to provide these details to the National Assembly and defend the position as important to the alliance,” the cable stated, according to the Korea Herald. “So far, however, MND has continued to put off this day of reckoning.”
The overall relocation plan will reduce the number of U.S. military bases in South Korea from 110 to 48, and pave the way for longer tours and more command sponsorships in a country where troops have traditionally been stationed unaccompanied for one year. The relocation was originally scheduled to be completed by 2008 but has been repeatedly delayed by construction problems.
The organization WikiLeaks has released a number of secret U.S. diplomatic cables since 2010, some detailing sensitive information that the government says has strained relations with allies and put some people named in them at risk.
Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.