Dempsey says 'some setbacks' in OPCON transfer plan

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, July 18 (Yonhap) -- The Pentagon's top military officer said Thursday there are "some setbacks" in efforts to get South Korea ready for the takeover of wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops by the agreed-upon date of Dec. 1, 2015.

But Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), said he still supports the OPCON transition as scheduled.

"From a military perspective, the timing of the transfer of wartime OPCON is appropriate," he said in a written answer submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The committee held a hearing on the nomination of the general for reappointment as JCS chief.

Dempsey stressed that the transfer will be implemented only when South Korea's capability to lead its own troops in the event of war is proven.

"The conditions for the transfer are based on meeting capability-based milestones, including acquisition of weapon systems, command and control systems, ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) platforms, appropriate and adequate supply of munitions, along with the right certification process to validate the readiness for the transfer," he said.

Although the South Korean military is a very capable force, however, it has had "some setbacks in funding to achieve these milestones," added Dempsey. He did not give more details.

Earlier this week, Yonhap News Agency learned that the South Korean government has requested another delay in the schedule for the OPCON transition.

"I know that has been proposed by the South Korean government, and we are looking at that, working with the South Korean government," a senior U.S. government official told Yonhap News Agency on background.

The allies are in consultations over the issue, he said, adding the U.S. would not "abruptly make decisions that would impair or endanger the security of South Korea."

South Korea's Defense Ministry confirmed later it has proposed a careful review of whether the current schedule is appropriate as North Korea increases its nuclear threats.

Critics says it's still premature to regain wartime OPCON, which would apparently weaken the joint defense readiness of the allies and send the wrong signal to North Korea.

Proponents of an on-schedule OPCON transition says South Korea needs to command its troops even in time of war, given its military power that has markedly grown.

South Korea handed over operational control to the U.S.-led U.N. troops during the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul regained peacetime OPCON in 1994.

South Korea initially agreed to take back its wartime OPCON as of April 17, 2012. Shortly after North Korea's deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in 2010, Seoul requested a delay in the schedule. Washington accepted it and set the current target date.

On North Korea, meanwhile, Dempsey said it shows no sign of preparing for a missile launch or a nuclear test.

"The security situation on the peninsula is stable at the moment," he said. "We do not have any indications of imminent use of ballistic missile or nuclear capabilities."

He expressed concerns about the possibility of an accidental clash between the two Koreas, which are technically still at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a formal peace treaty.

"The situation on the peninsula is always rife for miscalculation on all sides," he said.

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