U.S. deploys a battalion to Korea

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U.S. deploys a battalion to Korea

The U.S. Army will deploy on Thursday an 800-member mechanized infantry battalion to Gyeonggi, near the border with North Korea, to bolster defense in the region.

After withdrawing from Iraq, the battalion, equipped with state-of-the-art battle tanks and armored infantry fighting vehicles, will join the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, the main combat force here, stationed in northern Gyeonggi.

The battalion will be dispatched from an undisclosed base in the United States on Thursday, as a part of a rotational deployment of U.S. forces across the world, Korea’s Ministry of Defense said yesterday. “The U.S. Department of Defense, to fulfill the requirements of combat commanders, continuously pushes for and reviews dispatching its military strength across the world,” said Kim Min-seok, Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman.

Its “deployment of the mechanized infantry battalion to Korea seems to be one of such policies,” Kim added.

The Defense Ministry denied that the battalion was dispatched in response to recent uncertainty in North Korea following the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of leader Kim Jong-un who was once considered to be the second-most powerful man in the regime, and his followers.

“The U.S. already decided upon [the deployment] way before,” Kim told reporters, stating the decision was finalized last year. “It is unrelated to the recent purging of Jang Song-thaek by Kim Jong-un.”

But “the U.S. Armed Forces in Korea has continuously cooperated in order to increase defense capabilities in the Korean Peninsula and with the goal of combined security,” he added. “Korea and the U.S. are cooperating in order to strengthen defense in the Korean Peninsula.”

The battalion is expected to stay in Korea for nine months, military sources confirmed, before rotating to another country. Once it arrives in Korea, it will join the 2nd Infantry Division with M1A2 Abrams battle tanks and M2A3 Bradley armored infantry fighting vehicles.

A U.S. Forces Korea spokesman said yesterday that it is preparing a statement to further elaborate on the deployment of the mechanized infantry battalion and was currently unable to confirm Kim’s statement.

The 2nd Infantry Division is tasked with defending the South until U.S. reinforcements arrive on the peninsula in the event of a North Korean attack.

Of the approximately 28,500 U.S. troops in the country, about 35 percent are members of the division.

“After the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. troops have nowhere to go,” a military official said. “For the purpose of strategic flexibility and the concept of training, they may for nine months serve as a temporary deterrent, but their posting is unrelated to a sudden change in the situation [on the Korean Peninsula].”

Last April, U.S. Forces Korea redeployed the 23rd Chemical Battalion - equipped to deal with nuclear, biological and chemical attacks - after more than eight years away, to the 2nd Infantry Division, beefing up U.S. military’s capabilities in the region.

In October, the United States redeployed an attack reconnaissance squadron of the 6th Cavalry Regiment, a rotation force, from a base in Washington to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, signaling an increased number of U.S. rotational forces here.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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