The United States troops stationed in South Korea will move its current headquarters in central Seoul to the southern city of Pyeongtaek by the end of 2017, one year later than initially planned, the commander of the Eighth U.S. Army and a South Korean official said.
The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) and South Korea are currently in the process of relocating U.S. troops based in Seoul and north of Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, located 70 kilometers southeast of the capital.
Major constructions are under way to renovate and expand the new headquarters, with the relocation initially scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.
“The original goal was by 2016 but due to unexpected issues getting in the way, the relocation will begin in earnest next year and likely be finished by 2017,” Kim Kie-soo, director of the office for USFK relocation, said in a joint press conference with Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux, the commander of the Eighth Army, at the under-construction Camp Humphreys.
The USFK opened the construction site to a group of South Korean reporters on Thursday as it announced the delay in the relocation plan.
The delay is wrought by a contracted construction company, which went bankrupt, as well as a major revision in American troops’ family accompaniment program in 2013, which led to changes in the overall construction plan, Kim noted.
Bucking the relocation plan, however, the USFK’s 210th Field Artillery Brigade based right below the Demilitarized Zone retains its current location, Lt. Gen. Champoux said.
The artillery brigade is in charge of a grave mission, the U.S. commander said, referring to its task to counter North Korea’s artillery attacks at a time of emergency.
The artillery brigade will stay put until South Korea becomes able to fully take over the mission of the USFK brigade on its own, he said.
The expanded military garrison in Pyeongtaek, which will be the U.S. military’s largest compound in the world, will encompass 14.7 million square meters and house more than 513 buildings for the U.S., as well as South Korean troops, according to officials.
The construction was about 86 percent complete as of November, and will be wrapped up by the end of 2016, the officials said.
Champoux stressed the strategic advantage the upcoming relocation would have on the combat readiness of the U.S. forces, trying to dispel security concerns resulting from the USFK’s move away from the Demilitarized Zone, where the two Koreas stand heavily armed.
If any provocations occur by the North, emergency troops will move to contain them, the U.S. lieutenant general said, highlighting that the USFK will keep up its readiness regardless of the new location.
Situated close to the port of Pyeongtaek and the Osan Air Base, the Pyeongtaek base will also make it easier for the U.S. to deploy additional forces in South Korea in the event of war with North Korea, Kim said, adding that it will also boost survivability of American troops from North Korea’s grave artillery threats.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula technically at war.