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Report: U.S. military making changes in South Korea ahead of OPCON

By Elizabeth Shim
Report: U.S. military making changes in South Korea ahead of OPCON
The U.S. military in South Korea has made personnel changes at the United Nations Command since 2018. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The United States is seeking to "strengthen" the capabilities of the United Nations Command on the Korean Peninsula as it prepares for a handover of wartime operational control to South Korea, according to a Japanese press report.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Monday South Korea-based U.S. military officials said U.N. Command-based U.S. Forces Korea officers will be reduced in number and replaced with officers from the other 15 nations that make up the U.N. Command.

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The U.S. military in the South is referring to the strategy as "revitalization," according to the Asahi.

The U.N. Command was initially based in Japan, but was relocated to the Korean Peninsula after the signing of the armistice in July 1953. Since 1957, it has been customary for U.S. officers to serve also as members of the U.N. Command.

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The issue of operational control transfer, or OPCON, began more than a decade ago, but the transition was delayed due to North Korea's military threats, including the regime's nuclear weapons program.

Changes have been made since the leaders of North and South met at the truce village of Panmunjom, and U.S. President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong Un.

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Canada's Lt. Gen. Wayne Eyre was appointed deputy commander of the U.N. Command, the first non-American to hold the post, in July 2018. Other U.S. officers have been replaced with British and Australian nationals. Other countries could enter a status of forces agreement with South Korea, according to the Asahi.

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As tensions ease on the Korean Peninsula, relations may also be improving between South Korea and China.

Yonhap reported Monday two South Korean naval ships, the 4,400-ton destroyer Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin and the 4,200-ton logistical support ship Daecheong, entered the Chinese port of Shanghai on Monday, the first Korean ships to do so since the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system THAAD on the peninsula.

The ship included 149 naval cadets from the 73rd class of the Republic of Korea Naval Academy and more than 400 other sailors.

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Members of the Chinese navy welcomed the South Korean ships with placards written in Chinese and Korean, according to the report.

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