Scheduled 2012 Transfer of OPCON on Track

Oct 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Articles, South Korea

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(October 7, 2009) WASHINGTON — The United States will transfer the wartime command of South Korean troops as scheduled in 2012 despite concerns over a nuclear-armed North Korea, the commander of U.S. forces in Korea said Wednesday.

“On the OPCON transfer, we are on track. We will be prepared for 17 April, 2012,” Gen. Walter Sharp said in a forum here. “By 2012, the Republic of Korea military leadership will be ready to take over.”

The U.S. currently has wartime operational control, known as OPCON, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War when the U.S. fought with South Korea against the North. The U.S. South Korea got back the peacetime control of its forces in 1994.

Concerns have risen in South Korea after North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests that the OPCON transfer will create a gap in the joint defense of South Korea. North Korea is believed to have up to half a dozen nuclear warheads and long-range missiles capable of reaching part of the U.S.

Defense officials and generals of South Korea and the U.S., however, have expressed confidence in the capability of the South Korean military.

Sharp said the South Korean military is one of the strongest in the world, supported by the economic strength of the world’s 13th biggest country in terms of gross national product.

On North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s health, Sharp said he believed Kim Jong-il “takes charge of things.” Kim “continues to govern and he is in charge,” the U.S. commander said.

Despite rumors of Kim’s health failure after apparently suffering a stroke in the summer last year, Kim met with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in August to discuss the release of two American journalists and other bilateral issues.

U.S. President Barack Obama, after a debriefing by Clinton, said last month that Kim is healthy and in firm control.

“I think President Clinton’s assessment was that (Kim Jong-il is) pretty healthy and in control,” Obama had said. “There’s no doubt that this is somebody who, you know, I think for a while people thought was slipping away. He’s reasserted himself. It does appear … he was more concerned about succession when he was sick, maybe less so now that he’s well.”

By Hwang, Doo-Hyong
Yonhap News Agency

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