The United States and South Korea on Thursday finalised a plan to fulfil their agreement to give Seoul operational control over its own forces in wartime in five years, officials said.
General BB Bell, commander of US troops in Seoul, and South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Kim Kwan-Jin agreed to detailed timelines to follow up their defence chiefs' accord, Kim's office said in a statement.
Under the timeframe, South Korea should have "initial operational capability" by late 2009 and full capability by the end of 2011 to enable the transfer at 10:00am (0100 GMT) on April 17, 2012, the statement said.
The defence chiefs of both sides agreed in Washington in February on the wartime military operational control transfer a big change to the alliance dating back to the 1950-1953 Korean war with North Korea.
The agreement should lead to the folding of the Korea-US Combined Forces Command currently under a US general which controls all South Korean troops.
"When the transition is complete, the result will be two complementary, coordinated ROK (South Korea) and US commands with the Republic of Korea as the supported nation and the US as the supporting nation," the statement said.
Bell and Kim agreed that "during the implementation of the wartime operational control transition, the alliance will maintain a robust, combined defence posture."
A 1996 change in the command arrangements gave South Korea military operational control over its own forces in peacetime but not in time of war when they would fall under the command of a US general.
The United States had hoped to effect the command transition as early as 2009, but ultimately agreed to South Korea's insistence that responsibilities be shifted at a slower pace until 2012.
A Joint Chiefs of Staff office spokesman said Wednesday that Seoul should draw up its own defence plan against North Korea to replace the current US-led joint operation plan to comply with the change.
South Korea has some 680,000 troops backed up by 29,500 US troops confronting North Korea's 1.1 million-strong communist army since the Korean War.