The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) opened its new headquarters Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek on Friday. Its 73-year history in Yongsan has come to an end and the “Pyeongtaek era” has dawned with the relocation of the Eight U.S. Army to Pyeongtaek in last July followed by the USFK. The U.S. military had been stationed in Yongsan since it first arrived after South Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in September 1945 for the disarmament of Japan. Attendees at the ceremony celebrating the opening of the new headquarters included South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of Combined Forces Command.
This 240,000-square-meter headquarters consists of a four-story main building and two-story annex. The USFK, which was established in Yongsan in 1957, has ended its 61-year military presence in the capital and now settled in the city of Pyeongtaek. “All facilities and the remaining troops will transfer to the new location by the end of this year,” the USFK said.
Much attention is being paid to the mission and role of the USFK after the relocation. The new headquarters in Pyeongtaek has its own large airstrip with a port and railroad nearby, making forward deployment and reinforcements easier. This means the USFK can more effectively deter threats from North Korea.
But some say the status and function of the USFK would change once the relations between South and North Korea and between the United States and North Korea improve, thereby establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. The role of USFK could change from deterring threats from North Korea to actively engage in conflicts in and outside the region. Addressing the ceremony on Friday, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said, “"The new (USFK) mission will be an important one to contribute not only to peace on the peninsula but also to world peace as a stabilizer in Northeast Asia."
North Korea might demand that the USFK pull out of South Korea during the negotiation process for denuclearization with the United States and for peace treaty with South Korea. Some say that once peace treaty is established, the United States would draw down American troops in South Korea and let it stay as “peacekeeping force.” President Trump keeps talking about withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea, complaining about the cost of U.S. troops abroad. “We need to utilize U.S. troops as a ‘stabilizer’ on the Korean Peninsula and within the region in this time of security uncertainty,” a South Korean military official said.