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N Korea at crossroads

US command in South Korea moves away from Seoul

New port-facing location shifts focus from North Korea to broader Asia

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, center left, and American officials open the new headquarters for U.S. Forces Korea.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- The U.S. has shifted command of forces in South Korea to a military base south of the capital, suggesting that Washington intends it to play a broader role in Asia-Pacific security than guarding against North Korea.

The headquarters of U.S. Forces Korea moved on Friday to Camp Humphreys in the city of Pyeongtaek from the Yongsan Garrison in the heart of Seoul. 

The U.S. Eighth Army, the primary American force in South Korea with around 20,000 personnel, has been located there since July 2017.

U.S. forces in Pyeongtaek will "contribute not only to peace on the peninsula but also to world peace as a stabilizer in Northeast Asia," South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said at the opening ceremony for the new headquarters.

The facility is close to the U.S. military's Osan Air Base and the port of Pyeongtaek, providing ready access to additional personnel and materials in an emergency. It can also serve as a key transfer point for troops moving elsewhere in Asia. Pyeongtaek sits across the Yellow Sea from Qingdao, home port of China's Liaoning aircraft carrier.

Plans to concentrate U.S. forces at Pyeongtaek were drawn up in 2003 under then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to increase maneuverability across the Asia-Pacific region.

The United Nations Command in South Korea, overseen by U.S. commanders, formally relocated to Pyeongtaek on Friday. Formed in 1950 after the start of the Korean War, the command had been stationed at Yongsan since 1957, when it relocated from Tokyo.

Recent steps toward peace on the peninsula have raised questions about whether the command will remain in South Korea in the long term.

The Army's 2nd Infantry Division, currently stationed north of Seoul to guard against a North Korean advance, is slated to move to Pyeongtaek late this year.

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