The United States military opened its largest overseas base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeoggi Province, Friday, ending the 73-year history of Seoul’s Yongsan Garrison., The Korea Times reported.
The new headquarters of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) are also in the base, named Camp Humphreys, which spans 14.6 square kilometers in area.
Hundreds of ranking military officials from Seoul and Washington participated in the relocation ceremony.
“With a mandate to restore peace, security and defense of the Republic of Korea, the USFK will remain the living proof of the American commitment to the alliance,” USFK Commander General Vincent Brooks said in a congratulatory speech.
“This was a project that cost nearly $10.8 billion to build over 10 years and the Republic of Korea investment was over 90 percent of the cost,” he noted.
“Our relationships and histories are intertwined and they are strong enough to support this separation,” Brooks said, pledging to tighten the Seoul-Washington security alliance.
The U.S. has 28,500 troops stationed in the South. Camp Humphreys incorporates a total of 513 buildings and will accommodate 43,000 people including soldiers and their family members by the end of 2022.
Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo also praised the USFK for helping bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, calling for the need to maintain the strong alliance for the common goal of the denuclearization of North Korea.
“The Korean Peninsula is at a turning point from a violent post-war confrontation to peace. North Korea’s nuclear weapons should be scrapped for good and the two Koreas will open up a new era of exchanges and cooperation. All the achievements are the result of the Seoul-Washington alliance,” Song said.
He urged U.S. soldiers here to have a sense of the new mindset to be in line with the new peace era.
“The USFK and United Nations Command soldiers, who will serve their military duty at this new headquarters, should be aware that their new mission is to contribute to world peace as a stabilizer in Northeast Asia,” Song added.
The U.S. military has been stationed in South Korea since September 1945 when Washington dispatched its troops for the first time here. Their mission was to disband remaining Japanese armed forces here after they surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945.
The USFK, however, had to continue to stay here in the wake of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War. In 1953, Seoul and Washington signed a defense treaty to legalize the USFK to be stationed in Yongsan Garrison, central Seoul.
The Yongsan district has since been home to U.S. troops in South Korea and served as a symbol of the Seoul-Washington military alliance.
Most soldiers from the USFK and United Nations Command in Yongsan will move to Camp Humphreys by the end of the year. But the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command will, however, relocate to the headquarters of the Defense Ministry, also in Yongsan.
The government plans to turn the previous USFK headquarters there into an ecological park by 2027.
President Moon Jae-in said the USFK has served as a cornerstone and future of the alliance between the two countries.
“The solid Seoul-Washington alliance has played a critical role as strong war deterrence on the peninsula, helping the two countries to successfully hold summits with North Korea,” Moon said.