U.S. Chemical Warfare Battalion to Return to Korea

The U.S. military is redeploying a chemical warfare battalion back to South Korea nine years after it was pulled out of the peninsula. The move is part of Washington's efforts to rebalance its strategy by focusing more on the Asia-Pacific region than Europe.

A U.S. military source on Sunday said the U.S. Army will complete the relocation of the 23rd Chemical Battalion from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington to Camp Stanley in Euijeongbu north of Seoul by March of next year.

The battalion withdrew from the country in 2004 after the South Korean military took over duties involving detoxification in areas away from the front lines as well as thwarting North Korean underwater infiltrations and security in the Joint Security Area in the heavily-armed border separating the two Koreas.

The battalion consists of around 290 personnel and is tasked with detecting North Korean nuclear and chemical weapons, surveillance and detoxification operations. It will be based under the Second U.S. Infantry Division. Its redeployment “is aimed at strengthening the deterrent capability of South Korean and U.S. troops in case of a North Korean provocation,” the source said.

The U.S. Forces Korea is bolstering its capabilities just three years before the transfer of full operational control of South Korean forces to Seoul in December 2015.

On Sept. 26, the USFK brought in 78 so-called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. It apparently plans to deploy around 300 of them here as well as Excalibur precision-guided missiles that can strike North Korean artillery positions and Patriot PAC-3 and ATACMS surface-to-surface missiles.

The U.S. plans to keep an artillery brigade under the Second Infantry Division in Dongducheon north of Seoul rather than moving it further south to Pyeongtaek as planned. It is reorganizing the division into a joint South Korea-U.S. division.

At Seoul's request, USFK chief Gen. James Thurman is also considering redeploying 24 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters after they were pulled out to fight in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There are only three years left before the transfer of wartime operational control, but Washington seems to be taking steps to bolster capabilities in areas where South Korean forces are still lacking," a military source here said.

englishnews@chosun.com / Oct. 08, 2012 12:02 KST