The United States has proposed withdrawing about one-third of American troops from South Korea by the end of next year, as part of a realignment of forces under discussion with authorities in Seoul. The Pentagon confirms that a senior U.S. defense official has presented South Korean authorities with what is termed a "concept proposal" for the withdrawal of 12,500 troops from the peninsula by the end of next year. There are about 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.
The senior official, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Lawless, unveiled the proposal in talks Sunday in Seoul. Mr. Lawless made clear the one-third cut in the U.S. force in South Korea will include a brigade being transferred to Iraq later this year.
That move, involving 3,600 troops, was announced last month. At the time, it was unclear whether the soldiers would return to South Korea at the conclusion of their Iraq tour.
Mr. Lawless is quoted by a Pentagon spokesman as saying details of the overall redeployment proposal are being worked out in consultations with the South Korean government.
Mr. Lawless is leading the U.S. side in two days of talks focusing on the movement of several-thousand American troops away from front-line positions along the demilitarized zone with North Korea, as well as from central Seoul, to new facilities south of the capital.
Defense officials are stressing the proposed cuts in U.S. troop strength will not weaken the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea. They say numbers of soldiers alone are not a true measure of U.S. strength and emphasize that there are other military options and capabilities to deter any potential attack by North Korea.