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US to move troops from South Korea to Iraq, Afghanistan
( 2003-11-25 14:25) (Agencies)

The United States plans to relocate troops from South Korea to duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a wide reorganization of its 37,000 strong garrison in the country, a report quoting military officials said.

Washington has been in talks with South Korea on a reconfiguration of its forces for months, designed to free up troops for duty elsewhere, and also to ease their impact on the local populace.

In a report from Honolulu, the Washington Times quoted unnamed military officials as saying that soldiers currently stationed in South Korea could soon find themselves in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The paper said Washington was also planning to move most of the 7,000 people in its headquarters in Seoul out of the capital within a year.

"Thought also is being given to disbanding the United Nations headquarters in South Korea and ending the practice of keeping a four-star general in command of operations in the country," the paper said.

It said the size of the US garrison, which has been in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953, would be cut to an as yet undetermined number.

The report came six days after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld returned from a trip to Northeast Asia.

In a statement last week Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-Kil reaffirmed a plan to withdraw US forces from camps near the frontlines with North Korea.

Rumsfeld insisted any pullback would not weaken the US stance against the Stalinist state.

"We understand weakness can be provocative, that weakness can invite people to do things that they otherwise would not be inclined to consider," Rumsfeld said.

South Korea and the United States last Monday agreed to a phased pull-back of some 15,000 troops close to the border with North Korea.

The move is part of a sweeping reorganization of US troops across the region, including the 47,000 soldiers based in Japan.

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