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S. Korea to create Joint Forces Command to beef up combat capability

All Headlines 18:00 December 29, 2010

By Kim Deok-hyun

SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) -- The defense ministry said Wednesday it will create a top military command structure next year to enhance interoperability of its armed forces, a key part of its plans to improve combat capability against North Korea.

A four-star officer who will lead the new Joint Forces Command (JFC) is to wield more command authority than the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the ministry said in a report to President Lee Myung-bak on its policy plans for next year.

Also, a total of eight operational commands in the Army, Navy and Air Force will be streamlined into three commands, one for each military branch, to improve efficiency in their joint operations, ministry officials said.

Currently, there are five operational commands in the Army, two in the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, and one in the Air Force.

In South Korea, the JCS chairman has operational control over all military branches but no power to manage military personnel. The lack of authority in personnel management has been cited as one major factor hindering interoperability of the troops.

Officials said the JFC commander will not only have operational command but also the responsibility for managing military personnel of the three armed services.

"The most important task for next year is to reform the top military command structure," a senior ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

The ministry also aims to "thoroughly cope with all possible provocations from North Korea" and "nurture armed forces that get ready to fight and win," the official said.

Tensions have remained acute since North Korea's artillery strike last month on the front-line island of Yeonpyeong near the Yellow Sea border, which killed two marines and two civilians. The bombardment came just eight months after the North torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors.

The two attacks revealed weaknesses in the South's defense and highlighted shortcomings of the current command structure led by the JCS chairman.

Any change in the top command structure needs parliamentary approval. If endorsed, it will mark the first reorganization of the top command system in 23 years, the official said.

Undecided at this point is whether to allow the JCS chairman to concurrently take the JFC command or separate the two posts. If separated, the JCS chairman will act as an adviser and most of the commanding authority will be transferred to the JFC commander, the official said.

"There are two options, and we will try to choose the best one by sufficiently gathering public opinion next year," the official said.

To beef up its guard against North Korea on border islands in the Yellow Sea, the ministry also plans to establish a new command structure there. The division-sized command would increase the number of troops stationed on the five islands to 12,000 from the current 5,000.

In addition, the ministry plans to swiftly turn the five islands, including Yeonpyeong, into military fortresses as President Lee ordered earlier this month.

The government-run Institute for National Security Strategy warned this week that North Korea may escalate the ferocity of its military aggression next year by invading one of the Yellow Sea islands.

Analysts believe that this year's bold attacks on Yeonpyeong Island and the Cheonan warship were partly linked to the North's tactic to rally support among its military leaders at a time when leader Kim Jong-il is apparently transferring power to his youngest son, Jong-un.

The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a fragile truce, not with a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South as a deterrent against the North.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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