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Gen. Bell Hints at Reduction of U.S. Troops in Korea

Posted May. 30, 2008 00:59,   


Gen. Burwell B. Bell, the outgoing commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), told a news conference Friday that the United States must ensure it has the capabilities required to win in its war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bell said the United States remains committed to maintaining its current troop levels in Korea as agreed between President Lee Myung-bak and George W. Bush last month. However, he also noted that the two countries’ defense ministers will discuss the possibility of redeploying U.S. troops or weapons in Korea to combat areas.

This remark suggests that the United States now has no plan to pull out additional U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula anytime soon, but will consider deploying them to other regions, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, if necessary in the future.

The two countries agreed on the “strategic flexibility” of U.S. forces stationed in Korea in January 2006, making it possible for the United States to relocate its troops stationed here to a conflicted area with the Korean government’s consent.

When asked about the possibility of redeploying a squadron of Apache attack helicopters in Korea to Afghanistan, Bell said that it is hard to predict for the moment. However, the outgoing commander also added that he believes that U.S. forces need more Apache helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the U.S. Army will review the matter if U.S. commanders in the two leading fronts in the global war on terror request it.

“When the USFK dispatched one of its brigades in Korea to Iraq in 2004, the U.S. deployed bombers in Guam to compensate them and be ready to engage North Korean targets within 24 hours,” said Bell. "We will ensure that the (combat) capability we have here either remains the same or improves," he added.

The retiring general also stressed that the USFK will remain in the Korean Peninsula as long as a majority of Koreans welcome them, though he is aware that some influential figures in both countries are demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea, arguing their presence as a “relic of the cold war.”

Bell will step down Tuesday in a change of command ceremony at Yongsan Garrison, retiring after 40 years in service, including 28 months here in Korea. He will be replaced by Gen. Walter L. Sharp.