Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. will pull back 14,000 soldiers from the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean peninsula decades after they were stationed there to serve as a "tripwire" aimed at deterring an attack from the communist North.
Three months of U.S.-South Korean talks led to an agreement announced in a joint statement Thursday.
"Both sides agreed that a fundamental goal is to enhance security on the Korean peninsula and improve the combined defense," it said.
The redeployment of the 2nd Infantry Division troops will take place gradually, and they will be moved to "hub bases" located at least 75 miles south of the DMZ. That will also place them south of the capital, Seoul. Training will continue in the vicinity of the DMZ.
Since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s, the presence of U.S. forces so near the world's most heavily armed border has been considered an effective deterrent, since any attack from North Korea would be met by a decisive American response.
Before Thursday's announcement, some South Korean officials had expressed concern that the redeployment could be interpreted by the North as a hostile act.
This was because, without the forces there, the U.S. could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korean nuclear facilities without risking retaliation that could reach U.S. forces, they argued.
Artillery retaliation in such a scenario would, however, easily reach Seoul.
The agreement will also see most of the troops based at the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in the capital also moved further south, although the headquarters itself will remain in Seoul. In total, the U.S. has 37,000 troops in Korea.
The moves form part of planned realignments of U.S. troops around the globe. Last April, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the soldiers near the Korean DMZ might move south, to other countries in the region or even back to the U.S.
On a recent vision to the region, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed as inaccurate reports citing unnamed defense officials as saying that many Asia-based U.S. troops might be relocated to bases in Australia.
He told a regional security conference in Singapore that the aim was "how best to sustain the American commitment to this region in the face of the global demands on our defense resources."
Last week, the U.S. agreed to finance and further improve South Korea's defense capability, earmarking $11 billion over the next three years.
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