It appears that Washington will likely press head with a partial pull-out or a reduction of U.S. ground forces (infantry combat units) stationed in South Korea as a gambit to pressure Seoul over the defense cost sharing talks between the two countries. Since 2008, a total 28,500 soldiers are staying in South Korea. The size of U.S. troops stationed in Korea is the third largest that Washington currently deploys abroad, following the American forces in Japan and in Germany.
The army unit takes up the largest portion with 18,500 soldiers, with 8,500 air forces and navy soldier and marine corps forming the rest. “The target for force reduction was mostly ground troops in the past,” said a military source. “Reduction will take place primarily in the Second Infantry Division.”
In fact, a rotating deployment of a combat brigade (5,000 soldiers) under the Second Infantry Division is considered as a possible method for reduction. Since 2004, the United States military has dispatched its infantry units to the second division on the Korean Peninsula every six to nine months. Only the troop soldiers are replaced with the armory such as tanks and multiple rockets staying in South Korea. If President Trump decides to delay or suspend the rotating dispatchment of those infantry soldiers, the amount of U.S. forces in South Korea will drop to 23,500. Another potential scenario is to delay rotation until Seoul accepts Washington’s proposal on cost sharing arrangements.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the U.S. Congress in August last year, stipulates that the number of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea should not be cut below 22,000. Some argue that Mr. Trump might cut it down to 22,000 should he choose to. “We cannot exclude the plausibility where President Trump will make a sizable cut in the ground forces in South Korea as a way to make progress in the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang and to reach a better deal for the cost-sharing talks,” said a military official.
Sang-Ho Yun firstname.lastname@example.org