Thursday, August 18, 2016

After THAAD decision, unusual number of S. Korea visits by high-ranking US military figures

Visits may be related to hastening THAAD deployment amid domestic and international controversy

Posted on : Aug.17,2016 17:59 KSTModified on : Aug.17,2016 17:59 KST

High-ranking US military figures have been lining up to visit South Korea since the decision was made to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the peninsula. The visits may amount to an attempt to hasten the US Forces Korea deployment amid a heated controversy in South Korea and overseas.
Speaking at a regular Ministry of National Defense briefing on Aug. 16, a senior Army officer said US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “will be arriving in South Korea on Aug. 17 for a three-day visit, during which time he will be meeting on Aug. 19 with [South Korean] Army Chief of Staff Jang Jun-kyu.”
Milley’s visit is drawing attention as another in a series of recent visits by senior US military officials. In late July, US Army Secretary Eric Fanning visited to inspect a 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade missile defense system.
On Aug. 10 and 11, Pentagon Missile Defense Agency director James Syring, who oversees US missile defense strategy, visited South Korea to meet with senior Joint Chiefs of Staff officials and USFK Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks. On Aug. 9 and 10, US Army Pacific Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Brown toured a number of USFK units, including the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. This is an unusually large number of visits by high-ranking US military figures over a short time.
Analysts are interpreting the series of visits as aimed at showing off the US’s commitment to a USFK THAAD deployment for domestic and overseas audiences and offering encouragement amid an ongoing controversy over the deployment decision. Another aim may be to offer side support to the South Korean government, which has found itself under heavy domestic and international pressure over the THAAD issue. Indeed, Syring made the unusual move of holding a public press conference during his visit on Aug. 11 to stress that the USFK THAAD system was “solely for the purpose of defense” and put to rest claims that its introduction meant South Korea was being brought into the US’s own missile defense system. The Ministry of National Defense rated Syring’s interview at the time as having helped sway domestic opinion in favor of the deployment, sources said.
The US military has said Milley’s visit is only one leg of a Northeast Asia tour between Aug. 15 and 23, with visits to China and Japan as well. But a statement said Milley would not only hear about deployment plans for US units during his visit, but also “receive an update on . . . plans to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense to protect the Republic of Korea from North Korean ballistic missile threats.”
The message is that the US military is making no secret of its plans to have a top general conduct a personal site inspection and consider measures for a USFK deployment issue that is sparking controversy in South Korea and abroad.
By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer
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