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U.S. Drawing Down Troop Levels in S. Korea

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-5359087,00.html U.S. Drawing Down Troop Levels in S. Korea Friday October 21, 2005 3:16 AM By ROBERT BURNS
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 20, 2005
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      http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-5359087,00.html

      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
      said.

      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
      military capability.

      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
      all-out attack.

      But now it has begun pulling out thousands of U.S.
      troops.

      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/
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