The Korea Herald


US must continue to invest in 28,500 American troops in S. Korea: USFK commander

By Yonhap

Published : March 21, 2024 - 09:10

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US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera speaks during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday (The committee's YouTube account) US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera speaks during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday (The committee's YouTube account)

The commander of US Forces Korea emphasized the need Wednesday to continue to invest in 28,500 American service members in South Korea through various training programs to defend South Korea against evolving North Korean threats.

Gen. Paul LaCamera made the remarks amid lingering concerns that should former President Donald Trump return to the White House, he could consider reducing the USFK troop level, though the current level is stated in the US National Defense Authorization Act.

Those concerns rose this week, as Christopher Miller, who served as the acting Pentagon chief under Trump, said in a recent media interview that the time has come to talk about whether USFK still needs its current troop strength or if a change is needed.

"We must continue to build physical, mental and spiritual readiness through operations and activities designed to compete in the gray zone with the DPRK," LaCamera told a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"To defend the ROK, we must continue to invest in the 28,500 service members, including by trilateral and multilateral exercises on and off the peninsula, multi-domain training integrating live, virtual and constructive entities and continue to experiment with next-generation capabilities," he added. ROK stands for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

In his written statement to the committee, LaCamera described USFK as a "premier joint force capable of operating in all domains with allies and partners" and a "critical" part of the US approach to providing extended deterrence in Northeast Asia.

Extended deterrence refers to America's commitment to using the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its regional allies.

The general also noted that China and Russia are "mindful" of USFK's presence -- in an apparent allusion to the strategic value of USFK in dealing with potential security challenges from the two countries.

"These geographic realities, combined with powerful economic interests, make the ROK the linchpin of security in Northeast Asia and a treaty ally we must defend," he wrote in the statement.

Asked to give his assessment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's intentions behind his weapons programs, LaCamera said that his "top" priority is "regime survivability."

"And he's developing weapons of mass destruction. For that, he is looking for sanctions relief," he said, "And he's preparing to defend his nation and (that) is his top priorities."

Responding to a question about whether he anticipates any North Korean aggression against the South, he outlined ongoing North Korean military activities.

"Actions right now ... (are) gray zone activities. He's coming out of COVID just like everybody else. He's in his winter training cycle right now," he said. "And he's testing equipment and he's also having Russia test some of his equipment by providing that for the fight in Ukraine." (Yonhap)