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Esper voices confidence in USFK response to coronavirus

Defense 06:54 March 24, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday he is confident in U.S. Forces Korea's response to the coronavirus as South Korea marked a new low in daily infections.

"Received an update from @USForcesKorea commander GEN Abrams today on the #USFK response to #COVID19," Esper tweeted, referring to USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams. "Confident that his leadership and increased preventative measures in the region will mitigate the spread of the #coronavirus."

He added: "I trust our commanders to make the best decisions for their units as they balance mission requirements with force health protection."

This AFP file photo shows U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. (Yonhap)

This AFP file photo shows U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. (Yonhap)

South Korea on Monday reported 64 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest number since Feb. 29. In total, the country has reported 8,961 infections, including 111 deaths.

Among the 28,500-strong USFK and affiliated population, nine cases have been reported, the latest on March 10.

Speaking at a Pentagon press briefing earlier in the day, Esper acknowledged that the global spread of the virus may impact troop readiness but expressed confidence it will not affect the ability to conduct national security missions at home and abroad.

He said 133 American military personnel have contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, nearly half of South Korean employees with USFK face a furlough beginning April 1 short of a deal on how to split the cost of stationing American troops on the peninsula.

The latest round of negotiations on renewing the Special Measures Agreement ended last week without an agreement after Washington reportedly insisted on more than a four-fold increase in Seoul's financial contributions to US$4 billion.

Abrams told reporters on March 13 that the Pentagon has authorized keeping a portion of the Korean workers to ensure continuation of services affecting life, health, safety and minimum readiness.


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