New joint chiefs head vows retaliation if North provokes
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- The new head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) pledged Wednesday to strike back against any provocation by North Korea, saying strong military capabilities are the most powerful deterrence against aggression.
Navy Adm. Choi Yun-hee took the helm of the 650,000-strong South Korean forces to replace outgoing Gen. Jung Seung-jo in the first military reshuffle under President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February.
It is the first time that a Navy chief has been appointed to the top military post, which has been dominated by Army generals in the past.
"If the enemy provokes, we should promptly strike back to make them pay a painful price," Choi said in an inauguration ceremony held in front of the JCS headquarters. "We have to concentrate all of our forces to prevent a war."
Kim ordered his military to stay vigilant to protect the nation and people, saying the North is "always preparing for another provocation."
Choi's appointment comes at a critical time as South Korea is preparing to regain its wartime operational control (OPCON) from the United States in December 2015, which will change the military command structure if implemented.
Following Pyongyang's third nuclear test and its bellicose rhetoric, Seoul has asked Washington to postpone the schedule to have more time to bolster its defense capabilities. The two governments agreed this week to decide on the appropriate timing early next year for the transfer.
During the parliamentary confirmation hearing last week, Choi supported South Korea's taking back of its wartime command but said the two nations should review the changing regional situation to set the right timing for the transition.
South Korea handed over its OPCON to the U.S.-led United Nations troops during the 1950-53 Korean War and subsequently regained peacetime OPCON in 1994.
Currently, the South Korean military remains in command under normal armistice circumstances, but in case of a war, the U.S. commander would assume OPCON of the two nations' forces.
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