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  National
Redeployment of U.S. Troops
U.S. May Cut Third of Troops in South Korea
By James Brooke
Times Writer
2 U.S. Army soldiers assigned to C Troop of the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, relax atop their M-1A1 Abrams main battle tank after a long day of maneuvers and gunnery training at the Korea Training Center, Republic of Korea.

The Bush administration has presented a detailed plan to South Korea for withdrawing one-third of its 37,000 troops on the divided peninsula by the end of next year as part of a wider effort to reposition American forces around the globe, officials in Seoul and Washington said Monday.

A senior Pentagon official in Seoul described the plan, which would remove 12,500 American troops from South Korea, as a "concept proposal" that could still be revised, although South Korean officials indicated they had little doubt the withdrawal would move ahead.

The reduction of the American force, in place for decades to deter attack from North Korea, would be the first since 1992, when about 7,000 troops were withdrawn. The move would include the previously announced transfer of a brigade of about 3,600 soldiers to Iraq this summer, Pentagon and South Korean officials said. Those troops, from the Second Infantry Division, are not scheduled to return to South Korea after their tour in Iraq.

The proposed cutback is sparking debate in South Korea about whether Washington is turning its back on a long and close alliance with the country, especially as new disclosures about North Korea's program to build nuclear weapons have increased concerns about the intentions of that closed society. This week, American and South Korean security officials are conducting regularly planned talks on the future of the alliance.

AH-64D Apache Longbow
Just hours after arrival by ship, an AH-64D Apache Longbow takes off from the docks in Puson and is en route to it's U.S. Army camp in South Korea.

But conservative editorial writers and politicians are already accusing the liberal government of President Roh Moo Hyun of allowing anti-American views to flourish unchecked, provoking Washington to cut back sharply on the American military presence.

Conservative South Koreans are also complaining that the United States is surrendering a bargaining chip that would have been useful in nuclear weapons talks with North Korea, even though Pentagon planners say South Korea's security would not be affected.

The Grand National Party, a conservative opposition party that has traditionally supported the American military presence, on Monday described the troop cut plan as "shocking and surprising."

But not all shared that view. Outside the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Monday, protesters took the news as a chance to rally against the American troop presence.

Korean War (1950-53)
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been actively drawing up new designs for American forces worldwide, not just in South Korea, to take advantage of new technology to more rapidly assess threats and more quickly move troops to meet them. The Pentagon has also proposed moving two Army divisions out of Germany and making other changes to European-based forces to reflect different security needs since the end of the cold war.

Since last year, Pentagon officials have said a reduction of troops in South Korea was a logical, even likely, outcome of the effort to reorganize forces. But the proposal presented to the South Korean government on Sunday by Richard Lawless, deputy under secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs, was the most specific yet, even though it remains under discussion.

In a statement, Mr. Lawless said, "Details are being worked out as the process of consultation with the Republic of Korea continues."

Kim Sook, head of the North American division of South Korea's Foreign Ministry, said his government would review the proposal before responding. But he referred to the plan as "the notification from the United States," implying that South Korea might not have much influence over the timing and numbers of American troops to be withdrawn.

The proposal was reported Monday in The Wall Street Journal.

Donald Rumsfeld
Mr. Rumsfeld's trip to South Korea in November foreshadowed the changes, but he said his efforts to reorganize forces there would not diminish either the capacity or commitment of the United States to deter aggression by the North. Pentagon planners have said troop cuts will not represent a retreat from American responsibilities. They say new technologies and strategies will increase the American military's capacity to defend South Korea.

In the months before the war with Iraq, for example, when large numbers of marines were sent to Iraq from bases in the Pacific, where they are on standby for a crisis on the Korean peninsula, the Pentagon ordered a number of long-range bombers to Guam in an overt mission to show North Korea that the United States could still defend the South. Additional surveillance missions were flown in international airspace in northeastern Asia, officials said.

The Pentagon is undergoing what Mr. Rumsfeld has called a process of transformation, reviewing the location and size of its bases and the numbers of troops deployed overseas to incorporate improvements in the ability to gather intelligence, target weapons and field forces quickly.

"It is not numbers of things," Mr. Rumsfeld said during his visit to South Korea in November. "It is capability to impose lethal power, where needed, when needed, with the greatest flexibility and with the greatest agility."

The location of American military forces in South Korea was largely frozen in place half a century ago with the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The United Nations Command honor guard members carry caskets containing the remains of soldiers who served in the Korean War during a repatriation and Memorial Day ceremony at Knight Field, May 27.

In 1976, President Carter proposed withdrawing ground troops from South Korea, but later backed down in the face of a conservative outcry in the United States and the discovery that North Korea had been digging invasion tunnels under the demilitarized zone. Still, troop levels have been steadily reduced since the end of the war, when they were about 10 times the current level.

North Korea has 1.1 million soldiers, and South Korea has 690,000. According to Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, the government wants the proposed troop reduction to be phased in over 10 years.

For years, some American soldiers served in border posts as "tripwires," deployments intended to awaken American public opinion in the event of a repeat of North Korea's invasion of the South in 1950.

Discarding the tripwire strategy, Mr. Rumsfeld announced last year that by 2006 all American troops would be shifted south of the Han River, out of artillery range of the North. That would allow the South Korean and American militaries to respond to any attack from the North without sitting so dangerously close to artillery systems just north of the demilitarized zone.

18th Medical Command in Seoul
At the same time, the United States promised to spend $11 billion during the next five years to upgrade its military firepower in Korea. But some South Korean conservatives have called it merely a repackaging of planned spending programs. The outlines of a new arrangement of American forces were evident elsewhere in East Asia as well.

In Tokyo on Monday, the Asahi Shimbun daily said the United States was sounding out Japan about moving some of the 14,000 American marines stationed in Okinawa to a Japanese base on the northern island of Hokkaido. On a stop in Okinawa last fall, Mr. Rumsfeld endured a scolding from the governor, who complained about the disproportionate burden of the American forces on his crowded island.

Separately, Australian Radio reported Monday that Mr. Rumsfeld and his Australian counterpart, Defense Minister Robert Hill, might sign an agreement next month to build a major military training center in northern Australia, either Queensland or the Northern Territories. The joint training center was discussed at a meeting in Singapore between the two defense chiefs.

With Washington's concern growing about monitoring and patrolling international sea lanes in the region, the United States is already investing tens of millions of dollars this year in expanding Air Force and Navy facilities on Guam, an American island in the Western Pacific.


The above article is from The New York Times.



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