A U.S. soldier assigned to South Korea is under investigation after allegedly attempting to steal a taxi and striking a Korean National Police officer over the weekend.
The incident comes about a month after U.S. Forces Korea lifted its long-standing curfew for troops on the Korean Peninsula and has the attention of Army Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of all forces there.
“We are aware of the incident involving a U.S. soldier and KNP in Itaewon over the weekend and are cooperating fully with all legal authorities,” Lt. Col. Martyn Crighton, a 2nd Infantry Division public affairs officer, told Army Times. “We take this matter very seriously. We are committed to ensuring our soldiers obey Korean laws, U.S. military regulations and remain good neighbors with the Korean community.”
The suspension of the curfew on the peninsula was intended to serve as a 90-day evaluation period ending Sept. 17 to assess whether the curfew can be lifted permanently.
Incidents like this jeopardize that possibility.
“The incident remains under investigation and the soldier is in U.S. custody," Crighton added. “We will not be releasing any information at this time to protect the integrity of the investigation.”
The soldier is not currently jailed and is in the custody of his unit’s leadership, according to Crighton. Charges have not been brought against the soldier, but an investigation is ongoing between U.S. and South Korean officials, he said.
The soldier was reportedly out drinking with friends when he assaulted a taxi driver and attempted to steal the cab before hitting a KNP officer and getting tased, according to a message posted Sunday by U.S. Army WTF Moments.
Crighton would not comment on those details. The Korean Broadcasting Service reported that the U.S. soldier was arrested on suspicion of assault and property damage, but was handed over to the Americans in accordance with U.S.-South Korea Status of Forces Agreement.
Abrams retweeted U.S. Army WTF Moments’ warning after the event and added that soldiers should be watching their battle buddies during nights out.
Itaewon is a popular commercial district for U.S. troops stationed at Yongsan Garrison, which is in the process of closing and moving personnel to Camp Humphreys.
The message says the soldier now faces charges of assault, robbery, DUI and underage drinking, but Crighton confirmed no charges have been brought against him at this time. The message also notes that incidents like this threaten the permanent end of the curfew.
Part of the reason for testing a curfew lift is to increase the quality of life for troops stationed in South Korea.
“South Korea is an assignment of choice with countless regional and cultural opportunities for assigned personnel. The intent of the curfew suspension is to provide [U.S. Forces-Korea] personnel greater access to all Korea has to offer,” Col. Jonathan Doyle, U.S. Forces-Korea provost marshal, said in a statement accompanying the curfew suspension last month.
At the end of the 90-day evaluation period, Abrams is supposed to determine whether to continue the curfew suspension evaluation period, maintain or rescind the off-installation curfew based on behavior, morale and readiness factors.
Normally, the curfew lasts from 1-5 a.m. and requires troops to remain on base, in their residences or hotel rooms during those hours, according to the General Order Regarding Off-Installation Curfew posted to the command’s website.
The curfew is sometimes referred to as a “readiness call," as its restrictions are often framed as a way to ensure troops are able to conduct their duties on the peninsula each day.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer