March 31, 2011

South Korea: Construction at Humphreys to be completed by 2015

Construction at U.S. Army Garrison-Humphreys, the future flagship military installation in South Korea, will be completed by 2015, with the bulk of U.S. troops stationed in and north of Seoul moving there by the end of 2016, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

The date for the move, initially set by previous U.S. commanders for 2008 and then postponed to 2012, has been repeatedly delayed because of construction problems.

The timeline announced this week by South Korea further reinforces what many have been anticipating for at least a year. In a March 2010 interview with Stars and Stripes, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp said he expected the move to take place around 2015 or 2016, though he could not give an exact date because of the project’s size and complexity. He said then that it was difficult to coordinate construction and move troops and their families, while “at the same time never losing our combat capability.”

Sharp also said in a December 2010 speech in Seoul that the relocation of troops should be completed in 2016, reducing the number of U.S. bases in South Korea from 110 to 48.

“To be clear, this does not translate into a reduction of forces,” he told members of the East Asia Institute and Center for a New American Security. “Our strength on the peninsula will stay at its current level for the foreseeable future.”

USFK spokesman David Oten said Thursday that he could not confirm that construction would be completed by 2015.

Approximately 17,000 troops will eventually be stationed at Humphreys, with a small contingent remaining in Seoul.

A South Korean official with the USFK Base Relocation Office, part of the Ministry of National Defense, said this week that 38 percent of construction at Humphreys has been completed, as well as 76 percent of environmental clean-up work.

USFK says $4.1 billion is being spent on projects now under construction or design at Humphreys. Military officials have previously estimated the cost of the entire project, which has included extensive landfill work, to be $13 billion.

Uncertainty about the date of the move to Humphreys has left officials pondering how much to invest in schools and other construction at Yongsan and other bases scheduled for closure, particularly as a growing number of command-sponsored families move to South Korea.

The number of command-sponsored slots is closely tied to the construction at Humphreys, which is being designed to house large numbers of families. Limited infrastructure, particularly schools, forced the military in November 2010 to enact a priority system to determine how many troops can bring their families with them to South Korea now.

Military officials hope to eventually allow 14,000 troops, or approximately half of USFK’s troop strength, to bring their families with them. About 4,400 command sponsored troops are now stationed in South Korea.