South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, CFC commander U.S. Gen. Paul LaCamera, and deputy CFC commander Gen. Ahn Byung-suk attend the relocation ceremony of Combined Forces Command at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of National Defense Daily
SEOUL, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea completed the planned relocation of their combined forces headquarters to a military base outside Seoul on Tuesday, as tensions with North Korea remain at their highest level in years.
Combined Forces Command, which had been based at Yongsan Garrison in the heart of Seoul for 44 years, was moved to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 40 miles south of the capital.
"The beginning of the Pyeongtaek era for CFC is very meaningful in the face of North Korea's growing threat," South Korean defense minister Lee Jong-sup said at a ceremony for the relocation at Camp Humphreys.
The CFC was established in 1978 as the allies' central warfighting command to deter and defend against outside aggression toward South Korea. In the event of combat, the United States would assume operational control of the more than 600,000 active-duty South Korean and American forces on the Peninsula.
Plans have long been in the works for South Korea to take over wartime operational control but the transfer has been delayed over the course of several years. In August, the two militaries assessed Seoul's readiness to take command during large-scale joint field exercises.
At annual security talks held in Washington earlier this month, Lee and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a joint communique saying "significant progress had been made" in preparations for the transfer.
The allies also noted that the relocation of CFC headquarters to Camp Humphreys would contribute to a "stable transition of wartime OPCON."
The move, which was decided upon in 2019, comes amid a steady barrage of weapon and missile tests from North Korea. Officials in Seoul and Washington have assessed that the North has completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test, its seventh overall and first since 2017.
The relocation is part of an ongoing scheme to consolidate U.S. bases on the Korean Peninsula, primarily to Camp Humphreys, where U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command moved in 2018.
The United States is in the process of handing over the land of Yongsan Garrison to South Korea, which plans to develop the former military base into a public park.