The head of South Korea's ruling Democratic Pary, Rep. Song Young-gil, said Wednesday that the crisis in Afghanistan underscores the necessity for South Korea to regain full operational control of its military. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan underscores the urgency for South Korea to gain full operational control of its military, the head of the country's ruling Democratic Party said Wednesday.
"The Afghanistan crisis should be used as an opportunity to further nurture the will and ability of a strong independent defense by recovering wartime OPCON," Rep. Song Young-gil wrote in a Wednesday Facebook post.
In wartime, combined U.S. and South Korean forces would be led by the head of United States Forces Korea, currently Gen. Paul LaCamera. The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has looked to accelerate the process of gaining full control over its military.
"We need not only the importance of the ROK-U.S. alliance, but also an attitude of self-defense that our country will protect itself," Song wrote. The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
Song was writing in response to tweets by The Washington Post columnist Mark Thiessen, who drew a parallel between the swift takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
"If we had withdrawn all U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula after the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula would have been quickly unified under NK rule," Thiessen wrote Monday. "The reason our troops are still there is because they are still needed to deter Pyongyang and prevent that outcome."
Thiessen added in another tweet that South Korea would "collapse just as quickly without U.S. support" under a sustained assault from the North.
Song ridiculed the premise that Afghanistan and South Korea were in equivalent situations.
"[South Korea] cannot be compared to the Afghan government, which is tainted with incompetence and corruption," he wrote, pointing out that South Korea has the world's sixth-most powerful military and is its 10th-largest economy,
Song also said that North Korea is no match militarily for the South, which has a GDP more than 50 times higher than its neighbor.
"The Republic of Korea is at a level that cannot be compared with North Korea in terms of its military power," he wrote, citing the South's F-35 fighter jets and other advanced hardware.
"In North Korea, all weapons systems are outdated, and fuel for tanks and fighter jets is not being properly supplied due to economic sanctions by the United Nations and the United States," he wrote. "Far from being able to invade the South, the survival and maintenance of the system is desperate."
In his post, Song pushed back on the contention by former President Donald Trump that South Korea should be paying far more of the costs of maintaining U.S. troops on the peninsula, saying their presence was mutually beneficial for regional security.
"The ROK-U.S. alliance is necessary not only to respond to North Korea, but also to balance power and maintain peace in Northeast Asia," he wrote. "The existence of USFK is essential to U.S. security."
The comments come as U.S. and Korean troops are conducting scaled-down joint military exercises, which are slated to run until Aug. 26. Pyongyang reacted angrily last week to the drills, warning they would ignite a "security crisis" on the peninsula.
Moon had hoped to complete the transfer of wartime operational control before the end of his term in May 2022. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused several disruptions to preparations for the transfer, and no official timeline is in place.