(ATTN: UPDATES with Yoon's message, U.S. commander's remarks, details in paras 4-6, 11-12, 15; RECASTS 14th para for clarity; CHANGES dateline)
By Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan
PYEONGTAEK/SEOUL, Nov. 15 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States held a ceremony Tuesday to commemorate the completion of a yearslong project to relocate their Combined Forces Command (CFC) headquarters from Seoul to a key U.S. military base south of the capital.
The relocation of the CFC -- the allies' bedrock warfighting command -- ended 44 years of its presence in Yongsan at the heart of Seoul and opened a new chapter of its operation at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 65 kilometers south of Seoul.
Seoul's Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, CFC Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera, Deputy CFC Commander Gen. Ahn Byung-seok, and other government and military officials from the two countries attended the event held at Camp Humphreys.
In a congratulatory message read out by a senior CFC official, President Yoon Suk-yeol called on South Korean and U.S. service members to work as "one team" while casting the CFC as the "heart" of the alliance.
"This year, through the relocation from Yongsan to Pyeongtaek, the CFC has established a firm foundation for our combined defense's future-oriented development," Yoon said.
The president also wished the CFC "everlasting" development.
Defense Minister Lee expressed expectations that the relocation to the camp -- where the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) and the U.N. Command (UNC) are also headquartered -- will further strengthen the allies' combined defense posture at a time of advancing North Korean threats.
"Now that the CFC, USFK and UNC are all located at Camp Humphreys, (we) have become able to maintain a combined defense posture more strongly," Lee said. "As CFC troops that had, for years, worked separately in either Yongsan or Pyeongtaek, will work shoulder to shoulder and the cooperation system between the South and the U.S. will be further solidified."
Describing the CFC as a "symbol" of the bilateral alliance, the minister called CFC members the "most precious assets and strongest weapons" of the command.
"There is a saying that goes like, 'If you want to go fast, you should go alone, but if you want to go farther, you should go together,'" he said. "I hope that as trustworthy friends and comrades, South Korean and U.S. troops at the CFC will trust and rely on one another and work together to build a firmer 'fight tonight' posture."
LaCamera touted the relocation as an "extraordinary accomplishment" and reaffirmed that the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea remains unchanged.
"The ironclad commitment of the United States has not changed, nor has our bond," he said. "Our pledge to defend our homelands to strengthen our alliance to build coalitions has not changed."
In June 2019, Seoul and Washington agreed to relocate the CFC headquarters to Pyeongtaek. Late last year, the two sides decided to complete the relocation process by this year.
Some 700 CFC personnel started to relocate to the new headquarters early last month with the relocation completed by the end of the same month. The construction of the Pyeongtaek headquarters was completed in September with a budget of 32.2 billion won (US$24.3 million).
The relocation came alongside a broad scheme to consolidate U.S. bases across the Korean Peninsula largely into Camp Humphreys with an aim to enhance defense readiness and operational efficiency.
Launched in 1978, the CFC has been the allies' core warfighting headquarters tasked with countering potential North Korean aggression.
The CFC is led by a four-star U.S. general. But after the conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul, a South Korean general is to lead the combined command with a U.S. general taking a supporting role.
The South handed over operational control of its troops to the UNC during the 1950-53 Korean War. It was then transferred to the U.S.-led CFC when the command was launched.
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