Monday January 20, 2020
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U.S. And S.Korea Struggle Over Maintenance Cost of U.S. Troops

The U.S. embassy spokesman declined to comment, citing “confidential diplomatic discussions.”

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South Korea
North Korean army soldiers watch the south side while South Korean, left, and U.S. Army soldiers stand guard at the truce villages of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, July 27, 2014. VOA

The United States and South Korea are struggling to narrow differences over sharing the cost of maintaining U.S. troops after a U.S. demand for a 50 percent increase in the South’s contribution, a South Korean lawmaker said Tuesday.

Despite 10 rounds of talks since March, the allies have failed to strike an accord to replace a 2014 deal that expired last year, which requires South Korea to pay about 960 billion won ($848 million) a year for keeping some 28,500 U.S. troops there.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that South Korea, where the United States has stationed soldiers since the 1950-53 Korean War, should bear more of the cost. The U.S. military has warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal is reached.

South Korea
U.S. and South Korean soldiers salute during a change of command and responsibility ceremony at Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. military base, in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 11, 2017. VOA

Sudden, higher US demand

At their last meeting, in December, the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that South Korea pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year, about 1.5 times its current contribution, according to Hong Young-pyo, a senior ruling party legislator.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha briefed a group of lawmakers on the talks Monday. Any deal is subject to parliamentary approval.

“The negotiations were deadlocked,” Hong told a meeting with lawmakers. “The U.S. side suddenly made a proposal at the last stage which was difficult for us to accept.”

A spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Seoul declined to comment.

No further meetings scheduled

When asked about the U.S. demand Monday, Kang declined to specify numbers but said there was a “very big difference” in the positions between the two countries.

South Korea
A U.S. Army captain learns a few Korean terms from two Korean Army soldiers during the 2016 Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises in Yongin, South Korea, Aug. 25, 2016. VOA

“We’ll work to reach an agreement that’s reasonable, affordable and explainable to the National Assembly and the people,” Kang told reporters.
Kang Seok-ho, another lawmaker who attended the foreign minister’s briefing, said the government’s stance was not to pay more than 1 trillion won a year and an agreement should be valid for five years, not one year as reportedly sought by the United States.

With another meeting not scheduled, the stalemate raises concerns about the funding gap and the posture of the 70-year alliance amid signs of a rift over North Korea policy.

About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.

Exercises suspended

Trump announced a halt to joint exercises with South Korea in June, after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying they were very expensive and paid for mostly by the U.S.

Major joint exercises have since been suspended, which Washington said would expedite talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear program, though some small-scale exercises have continued.

Korea
North Korean army soldiers are greeted by South Korean army soldiers, wearing helmets, as they cross the Military Demarcation Line inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to inspect the dismantled South Korean guard post in Cheorwon. VOA

U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris met South Korea’s national security advisor Chung Eui-yong late last month to urge a swift agreement, warning that the United States may consider implementing the defense treaty “in a different way,” South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.

South Korea’s foreign ministry confirmed Harris had visited Chung but declined to give details.

Also Read: The United States Of America Starts Pulling Out Troops From Syria

The U.S. embassy spokesman declined to comment, citing “confidential diplomatic discussions.”

North Korean state media has recently increased complaints about South Korea’s military ties to the United States, but South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has said reducing U.S. military commitments would be an unlikely option for Washington. (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

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Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

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“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)