WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2009 – Northeastern Asia is an area of vital national interest to the United States, and American troops stand ready to defend the region, the commander of combined and U.S. forces in Korea said today.

Army Gen. Walter Sharp said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast today that he has three priorities on the peninsula.

The first is the same as it has been since the Korean War Armistice was signed in 1953: to be prepared to fight and win a war against North Korea. The command continually updates the war plan, and conducts exercises to be prepared for an all-out invasion of South Korea by North Korea.

“We’re in very good shape with that war plan,” Sharp said. “Being prepared to fight and win is also about being able to combat instability and preparing for other provocations by North Korea.”

Sharp’s second priority is to strengthen the alliance. The South Korean will take operational control of forces on the peninsula on April 17, 2012. “They will command the war fight,” he said. The command is working to ensure all systems and plans are in place for that date.

Sharp’s third priority is to maintain the quality of life for U.S. servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and their families. This includes taking care of the facilities and pushing along tour normalization, which will allow servicemembers to bring families to South Korea for serve three-year tours. “We can be set up just like Germany and Japan,” Sharp said.

Planners look at every eventuality, and U.S. officials are working with South Korean counterparts to put in place – and then exercise – the organizations needed for greater South Korean control, Sharp said. At the same time, the current mission to respond and deter North Korean threats remains.

Using “ROK,” the acronym for Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name, Sharp outlined that work ahead. “The biggest task is to make sure we have the command and control picture in place,” Sharp said. “I am confident from a military perspective that the ROK military and the U.S. military will be ready to do operational control transition to the ROK military on 17 April 2012. I think it sends the right signal to North Korea. The ROK military is an extremely strong, well-armed and well-trained military.”

Sharp said he is also looking to the future. Part of the Quadrennial Defense Review – due to Congress in January – will look at what will be needed in Korea in 20 years. “The QDR asks questions like what forces do you need to deter? What forces do you need to be able to rapidly execute current and future war plans? What forces do you need to regionally engage? What forces do you need to globally deploy?” the general said.

All this entails judgments about American forces, the growth of South Korean forces, likely scenarios in North Korea and other strategic inputs. One constant is that U.S. and South Korean forces will continue to work together closely, he said.

And the whole world will be watching.

“All of the things North Korea has done in the last year – the nuclear tests, missile tests and so on – have united the world in opposition to the North Korean behavior,” Sharpe said. “It is much more difficult for them to move money and technology around.”

The same is true for imports, with few countries willing to defy the United Nations and the will of the international community, he said.

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