US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Washington and Seoul have agreed that the US will maintain its control over the South Korean army in the event of war with North Korea.
Hagel made the remarks on Thursday after meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo at the Pentagon, Washington.
The US was scheduled to transfer wartime control of South Korean troops to Seoul in 2015.
However, Hagel said the handoff will be delayed to a later time to ensure South Korean troops have the necessary military capabilities to thwart the North’s threat.
“While this agreement will delay the scheduled transfer of operational control, it will ensure that when the transfer does occur, Korean forces have the necessary defensive capabilities to address an intensifying North Korean threat,” he told reporters.
Hagel also reaffirmed that Washington would maintain the previous number and structure of its military forces in South Korea.
The US has kept combat forces on the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War in the early 1950s. Pyongyang says Washington’s continued hegemonic control in the region is provocative.
The US has 28,500 troops in South Korea, which has its own 640,000-strong force. In the event of war with North Korea, current plans call for a US military commander to lead both forces.
In his new memoir “Worthy Fights”, former CIA chief Leon Panetta says US war plans against North Korea involve the use of nuclear weapons should communist forces pour across the demilitarized zone (DMZ), dividing North and South Korea.
Panetta recalls a 2010 briefing in Seoul by General Walter L. “Skip” Sharp, the commander of US forces in South Korea, who apprised him of the plans.
“If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korea forces and defend South Korea — including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary,” the former Pentagon chief writes.