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US confirms S. Korea troop cut
Updated: 2004-05-18 08:37

The United States has notified South Korea and Japan it plans to move about 3,600 troops from South Korea to Iraq, senior Pentagon officials confirmed to CNN.

The troops will come from the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and are expected to deploy around June, according to Pentagon officials.

The move to tap its forces in South Korea is an historic one by the Pentagon, as the Korean Peninsula is the Cold War's last remaining flashpoint.

Some in South Korea fear any cut in U.S. military presence might weaken its defense readiness against the million-man army of North Korea, the world's fifth largest military.

The troops of the 2nd Brigade would be deployed to Iraq for up to a year, but combined with their regularly assigned deployment to South Korea, some troops could be kept from their home bases from 18 months up to 24 months, Pentagon officials said.

The brigade was selected because it had not done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said.

Pentagon officials said that there is no decision yet whether the 3,600 troops would return to South Korea after the deployment saying it would depend on the security situation on the peninsula.

That decision would be made while the troops are already in Iraq as part of the Pentagon's ongoing review of how to best place U.S. troops around the world.

While the 2nd Brigade is gone from the Korean peninsula, additional assets would be rotated through South Korea.

Additionally, there would be an "earmarking" of Air Force aircraft and intelligence and reconnaissance assets as well as a Navy aircraft carrier to be on standby if needed.

There have been over 37,000 U.S. troops in Korea for the last 15 years helping defend the border between North and South Korea.

A decision must still me made whether the 2nd Brigade, which uses Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, will be bringing it own assets to Iraq or if they will use what is left from troops departing the war zone.

The U.S. started notifying Korean and Japanese officials this past weekend and completed the notification Monday, Pentagon officials said.

While Washington has labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil," along with pre-war Iraq and Iran, a troop move underscores how much the U.S. military is stretched to provide enough forces for Iraq while also meeting its other commitments.

"The U.S. government has told us that it needs to select some U.S. troops in South Korea and send them to Iraq to cope with the worsening situation in Iraq," Kim Sook, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North American Bureau, said Monday.

The 2nd Infantry Division is deployed along the tense border with North Korea, the world's most heavily armed dividing line.

Washington has previously indicated it wanted to reduce troops at the border while shoring up its military might in South Korea by deploying newer weapons, including Patriot anti-missile systems, that could protect against North Korean missiles.

U.S. troops came to South Korea to liberate it from Japanese colonialists at the end of World War II.

They led U.N. forces that defended South Korea from North Korean invaders aided by China and the then-Soviet Union.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, because their conflict ended in an armed truce that has never been converted into a peace treaty.

The U.S. troops have since stayed on.

The U.S. military presence buttresses South Korea's 650,000-soldier military to guard against North Korea and forms a key element in U.S. military strategy in the region.

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