SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States plans to shift a brigade of about 4,000 troops stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression and redeploy them in Iraq, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.
South Korea agrees with the plan and will be discussing with the U.S. government the timing and composition of the pullout, South Korean officials said.
“The United States appears to be in an urgent situation and it would be very difficult to reject the proposal,” a Foreign Ministry official involved in the discussions said.
He said Deputy U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had telephoned Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon Monday to explain the need for more troops in Iraq. He said Washington had sought a U.S. brigade for Iraq from South Korea.
The official said Ban had told Hadley he understood the U.S. situation in Iraq. The South Korean government agreed with the plan and would be holding discussions on the timing of the pullout, the composition of the brigade involved and any security measures needed to maintain defense posture, the official said.
A Defense Ministry officer said the U.S. request called for a “pullout” of a brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division to be deployed in Iraq. The force would exclude airborne or armored units and would not exceed 4,000 troops. He said the timing of the pullout had not been decided and would require some time.
Kim Sook, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America bureau, said that the talks were unrelated to South Korea’s planned deployment of 3,000 additional troops in Iraq.
“I want to make it very clear that this issue is about the need to take a part of the United States Forces in Korea and is not related to our deployment,” he said.
Seoul has delayed sending 3,000 of its troops to Iraq, which was approved three months ago, amid concerns over security and where they will be stationed.
South Korea currently has 670 military engineers and medics in southern Iraq. This force is due to join the planned second contingent somewhere in the northern region, creating the third largest military presence after the United States and Britain.
The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted a South Korean government official as saying that Washington planned to pull out an army brigade from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, which is based south of the heavily militarized border with communist North Korea.
The United States has 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea to deter aggression from the communist North, and the 2nd Infantry Division with its 14,000 soldiers is the most forward deployed.
Seoul and Washington are already involved in negotiations over reorienting the U.S. military presence on the peninsula and have agreed to move most of the troops based in Seoul and further north near the North Korean border to new positions south of the capital.