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(Yonhap Interview) OPCON transfer may usher in withdrawl of U.S. troops from Korea: ex-general

2013/11/18 07:40

By Lee Chi-dong and Roh Hyo-dong

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- Should the United States hand over operational command of South Korea's military back to Seoul, it could be a prelude to the withdrawal of American troops from the peninsula, a retired top U.S. Army officer said Sunday.

"Here's my fear: the first step to withdraw of U.S. forces is turn over the command. That's step number one, and it's a slippery slope. We say it's a slippery slope," Retired Gen. Ronald Griffith, former vice chief of staff of the Army, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

He pointed out that the U.S. government will likely face more and more pressure from Congress to bring forces out of Korea not only due to massive defense budget cuts but also as part of downsizing of the nation's military, which has been ongoing since the Cold War.

Gen. Griffith, who also served as the commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division in the Gulf War, said U.S. military draw-downs in Europe have been done because politicians wanted their troops back to protect the homeland.

He advised South Koreans to take such a reality into account in internally discussing the issue of regaining operational control (OPCON) in the event of a war.

For months, South Korea has been in sensitive consultations with the U.S. over whether and when to take back wartime OPCON.

Shortly after the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul granted the U.S.-led U.N. troops operational command of its entire military. South Korea regained its peacetime OPCON in 1994. The transfer of wartime OPCON is slated for December 2015.

The planned transition would require South Korea to play a leading role in staging a war against North Korea, with the U.S. playing a supporting role.

But South Korea's Park Geun-hye administration has requested a delay in the transition, arguing its troops need more time to gain the capability needed to deal with North Korea's enhanced nuclear and missile threats.

Basically, according to Gen. Griffith, the decision is up to the people of South Korea, a sovereign nation, as American soldiers are deployed there as "guests."

   "At this point in history, we are there as guests of the Korean people and the Korean government -- at their invitation. I think that serves Korea well. I think it serves the U.S. well. More importantly, I think it serves the region of Northeast Asia well," he said.

As long as the Korean government and people hope that the U.S. will maintain its current leading role, the U.S. "should not voluntarily walk away from that," he added.

Gen. Griffith, known for his military strategy expertise, served in Korea twice in the 1960s and the 1980s. He worked as vice chief of staff of the Army from 1995-1997.

He said he plans to write a book about his experiences with soldiers and their stories from his decades of active-duty services.

lcd@yna.co.kr

leechidong@gmail.com

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