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‘U.S. Could Pull Apache Choppers From Korea’

Posted April. 30, 2008 00:14,   

한국어

The United States is considering redeploying a squadron of Apache attack helicopters stationed in Korea to Afghanistan, a Seoul official said yesterday.

“The deployment of Apaches to Afghanistan has been discussed as an independent issue separately from the U.S.-Korean summit,” the official said.

A senior Seoul official said, “The relocation of Apache helicopters was reviewed prior to the Lee-Bush summit talks at Camp David. To my knowledge, working-level officials of the [Korean] defense and foreign ministries discussed the matter Tuesday.”

“Basically, the U.S. wants to operate its troops stationed in Korea in a tactical manner. [The redeployment] will not deal a blow to its military strength since U.S. forces in Korea will maintain troop level at 28,500 under the summit agreement.”

Despite the explanations, a growing number of critics say the dispatch would violate the bilateral agreement on freezing the reduction of U.S. troops in Korea.

In a news briefing in Tokyo on April 21, President Lee said, “After hearing that the 3,500 troops that the U.S. originally planned to cut this year were part of air units related to Apaches, I gave the matter serious consideration and brought it up when I met the U.S. defense secretary.”

His comment indicates that the two countries agreed not to pull out the helicopter squadron in the April 19 summit.

A Seoul government source said, however, “Some officials are worried that the agreement to freeze the reduction of U.S. troops by the end of the year can be virtually scrapped.”

The Defense Ministry said, “There have been no changes to the summit agreement and we have not been notified by the U.S. of a planned pullout of the squadron from Korea.”

A U.S. military official said the U.S. Defense Department will announce its stance on the issue Thursday.

▽ U.S. Implementation of Strategic Flexibility

Both military and non-military observers say the redeployment of the Apache squadron could signal the beginning of the U.S. implementation of strategic flexibility.

The United States has not relocated a large batch of its troops in Korea to another country since it deployed a brigade from the U.S. Army 2nd Division to Iraq in 2004, they said.

Washington and Seoul agreed on the strategic flexibility in a meeting between then Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January 2006. Given that the leaders of the two countries have pledged to strengthen their alliance, the United States could send troops in Korea to other places around the world on the condition of notifying and consulting with Seoul in advance.

Many warn of a security vacuum in South Korea, however. Apaches are a crucial asset to prevent North Korean armored units and special forces from infiltrating the South in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula.

A military source said that if the squadron is dispatched to Afghanistan, it can be regarded as withdrawal and Seoul will have to take action, such as speeding up the acquisition of next-generation attack helicopters.



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