U.S. Drawing Down Troop Levels in S. Korea
U.S. Drawing Down Troop Levels in S. Korea
Friday October 21, 2005 3:16 AM
By ROBERT BURNS
AP Military Writer
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - By the end of this year the
number of U.S. troops in South Korea will drop below
30,000, a milestone in a shift of responsibility for
defending the country from communist North Korea, the
top U.S. commander here said Thursday.
Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea,
said in an interview with American reporters that the
South Korean government is eager to bear more of the
burden of defending itself.
``It is natural for a country, as it develops
capabilities, to want to become more predominant in
their own national security,'' LaPorte said on the eve
of a key U.S.-South Korean defense meeting.
``So this is a natural evolution. We have supported
the Republic of Korea for 50 years. They have the 12th
largest economy in the world. So it's natural for them
to say, `Listen, we appreciate the support we
received; we are now capable of doing more things and
taking a more predominant role.'''
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Seoul
on Thursday to attend a Friday meeting with South
Korean defense officials in their annual review of the
alliance, which dates to the 1950-53 Korean War in
which the United States and other U.N. member nations
intervened on the South's side.
Rumsfeld began the second day of his visit with a stop
Friday at the national cemetery in Seoul where Korean
War dead are buried. He laid a wreath and paid
respects in silence for a few minutes.
Substantial numbers of American troops have remained
in South Korea since the war ended in a cease fire. In
recent years they have handed to the South Korean
military more of the key missions designed to deter
the North from invading and for preparing defenses in
the event that deterrence failed.
LaPorte said that although the North is hampered by a
weak economy and limited fuel resources, it remains
capable of launching an attack that potentially could
kill large numbers in the South.
``The North Korean threat has not changed,'' LaPorte
He added, however, that over the past 12 to 18 months
the North Korean military has been less provocative in
and around the Demilitarized Zone, the heavily guarded
buffer zone that divides North from South.
``The number of incidents has been reduced,'' he said.
He could not provide specific numbers.
The decline in provocations may be related to the fact
that within the past 18 months North and South Korea
have opened two rail lines and two highways that cross
the DMZ, allowing easy passage through what previously
had been a no man's land, LaPorte said.
Two thousand people a day now use those roads and
railways, he said. Those are mainly South Koreans
going north to a resort for vacation or family
reunions or to work at an industrial park.
LaPorte said this shows the South Koreans' efforts to
reach out to the North are bringing rewards, saying,
``They have developed benefits from their engagement
policy, and that is good.''
Rumsfeld has embraced the South Koreans' ambition to
take more responsibility for their own defense. He
wrote in an opinion article in the Asian editions of
the Wall Street Journal that in the future the U.S.
military will take play more of a support role in
South Korea, reflecting the South's increasing
The Pentagon for decades has maintained a contingent
of about 37,500 troops in South Korea - a legacy of
the Cold War amid concern that communist North Korea
might try to reunite the two Koreas by launching an
But now it has begun pulling out thousands of U.S.
By the end of this year, LaPorte said, 8,000 of the
12,500 troops designated for withdrawal will have left
South Korea. That will drop the total number to
slightly below 30,000. The rest of the reductions are
to be completed by 2008.
A brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division - the main U.S.
Army combat force in Korea - has already moved to Fort
Carson, Colo., after serving a yearlong tour in Iraq.
LaPorte said there is no current intention to reduce
the American force beyond the 12,500 already
designated to go.
LaPorte also said the South Korean government wants to
review the command arrangement for the combined
U.S.-South Korean military force that is under South
Korean control during peacetime but would switch to
U.S. control if war broke out.
On the Net:
U.S. Forces Korea: http://www.korea.army.mil/