Thousands of workers furloughed on US bases in South Korea after deal falls through

The U.S. military on Wednesday furloughed thousands of “vital” South Korean workers after Washington and Seoul failed to reach a new deal for the shared cost of U.S. troops stationed in the country.

The Trump administration and South Korea have been at odds since 2018 over how much Seoul should pay to host the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops based on the Korean Peninsula. The deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement, expired on Dec. 31.

The lack of a new agreement means half of the 9,000 Korean nationals employed by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) were placed on unpaid leave.

“This is an unfortunate day for us … it’s unthinkable … it’s heartbreaking. The partial furlough of KN employees is not what we envisioned or hoped what would happen,” USFK head Gen. Robert Abrams said in a statement.

“The furlough is in no way a reflection of their performance, dedication or conduct, but rather due to a lack of a burden sharing agreement making programmed funds unavailable.”

Abrams added that the furloughed workers are “vital to our mission and to the [South Korea] — U.S. Alliance,” and that the command will work to “minimize the impact on our ‘fight tonight’ posture despite the strenuous circumstances.”

The lack of a deal stems from President Trump asking South Korea to pay 400 percent more over the amount their nation had agreed to contribute, up to $5 billion annually.  

Officials from both sides have since said the demands have been softened. 

In the last deal, reached in February 2019, South Korea agreed to pay $870 million for the year.  

The move comes as both countries struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, with canceled military exercises due to the outbreak even as North Korea continues to hold missile tests. 

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