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U.S. stretches out S. Korea troop cut until 2008
Updated: 2004-10-06 14:08

The United States, under pressure from South Korea, has agreed to stretch over an additional three years until 2008 the withdrawal of 12,500 American troops, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

A formal joint announcement will be made within hours by both countries after the United States signaled in June that it intended to remove the troops -- representing a third of the 37,000-strong U.S. military presence in South Korea -- by the end of 2005.

Under the plan, which the officials said followed weeks of negotiations, 5,000 U.S. troops will leave South Korea this year, 3,000 next year, 2,000 in 2006 and the final 2,500 in 2007 and 2008.

While South Korean officials had publicly agreed to the pullout based on assurances from the Bush administration of continued strong military support, a quick withdrawal had raised worries in Seoul because of North Korea's continued nuclear and missile development programs.

One of the U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified, stressed that the bilateral consultations leading to the agreement "considered the Korean public's perceptions regarding a potential security gap."

South Korea and the United States have been close allies against the communist North since the 1950-53 Korean War.

"We have worked together closely and there has been give and take," said one Pentagon official, who asked for anonymity. But the official said Washington stood firm on the total number of troops to be withdrawn as part of a global realignment of American military forces after the Cold War.


The first phase of the withdrawal will come this year when about 5,000 troops of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team will be returned to the United States.

During the second phase in the coming two years, the United States will redeploy 3,000 troops in 2005 and another 2,000 in 2006.

In the final phase during 2007 and 2008, the United States will bring home 2,500 troops consisting mainly of support units and personnel, according to the agreement.

As part of the agreement, the United States would also continue to maintain a multiple launch rocket system battalion and associated counter-fire radars on the peninsula and begin a review of U.S. Forces Korea propositioned equipment.

South Korean officials had stressed that the rapid-fire rocket system was a major deterrent against North Korean artillery stationed just north of the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas and capable of devastating targets in Seoul only 50 kilometers from the border.

In July, the United States and South Korea also finalized a long-delayed deal to move the American military headquarters and all U.S. troops out of the heart of the capital Seoul.

Under that plan, all 8,000 U.S. troops from the Seoul metropolitan zone will move to the Pyongtaek area, about 50 miles south of the capital by December 2008.

Most of the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division, now positioned just south of the border with communist North Korea, will also move to the center of South Korea out of reach of most North Korean artillery fire.

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