Thousands of South Koreans who work on US bases in South Korea were furloughed on Wednesday after the Trump administration and South Korea failed to reach a new cost-sharing formula for the cost of US troops stationed.
CNN previously reported that top officials warned in February the move could undermine the US military mission amid tensions with North Korea. Approximately 4,500 South Korean workers are furloughed from their jobs on various US military installations on Tuesday.
The dispute over the cost of the 28,500 US troops stationed on the Korean peninsula erupted after President Donald Trump asked for a 400% increase in South Korea’s contribution under the so-called Special Measures Agreement. The demand outraged Seoul and concerned US lawmakers in both parties.
In February, a senior State Department official said US officials had “adjusted our stance” during the course of negotiations, and said they are not currently laser-focused on getting the South Koreans to increase the amount they pay by 400%.
The last deal agreed upon in February 2019 boosted South Korea’s contribution from about $800 million to nearly $1 billion.
The commander of US troops in South Korea called the South Korean employees who were furloughed “vital” to the US mission and to the Republic of Korea-US alliance.
“While this is an unfortunate situation and we will miss them dearly, we will work to minimize the impact on our ‘fight tonight’ posture despite the strenuous circumstances,” Gen. Robert Abrams said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
The furloughs also come amid the global coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 101 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the national total to 9,887 confirmed cases and 165 deaths.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Sophie Jeong and Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.