U.S. Mulls Pulling out Troops Unless Korea Coughs up More

  • By Kang In-sun, Kim Jin-myung, Roh Suk-jo

    November 21, 2019 10:19

    The U.S. is considering the pullout of an entire Army brigade should South Korea refuse to accept a five-fold increase in the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea.

    The U.S. is aggressively pressuring South Korea to pay $5 billion a year for keeping some 28,500 American troops here, a five-fold increase from the already exorbitant price set for this year.

    One diplomatic source in Washington with knowledge of the negotiations said, "The U.S. is preparing to withdraw one brigade if negotiations with South Korea do not progress according to President Donald Trump's hopes."

    A brigade in the U.S. military consists of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers, so a troop pullout of that size would bring the remaining forces close to the minimum set by the U.S. Congress. The U.S.' National Defense Authorization Act for this year prohibits the size of the USFK falling below 22,000 troops, but that means up to 6,500 can be pulled out.

    The source said, "We can't even take comfort in that, because exceptions can be made if vital American interests are at stake and the U.S. secretary of defense holds adequate discussions with an allied nation." There are also concerns that Trump could veto the act and withdraw still more troops.

    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to U.S. soldiers at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on June 30, 2019. /Newsis

    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper would not be drawn when asked about the possibility of a troop withdrawal after the defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea collapsed earlier this week. "I'm not going to prognosticate or speculate on what we may or may not do," he said.

    Esper earlier parroted Trump by describing South Korea as a wealthy country that "can and should contribute more" for what his administration increasingly seems to regard as a mercenary deployment.

    In a joint statement Esper issued after the annual Security Consultative Meeting with South Korea's defense minister last week, he still vowed to "maintain current U.S. troop levels and improve combat readiness." But he made the latest remarks less than an hour after the U.S. side broke off the cost-sharing talks in Seoul on Tuesday.

    A possible U.S. troop withdrawal was raised early this year by experts in Washington as a quid-pro-quo in denuclearization talks with North Korea. But now it seems to be coming into play as a way of extorting money from long-term ally South Korea.

    Diplomatic sources said Trump may be looking for an excuse to pull American troops out of the Korean Peninsula as part of a global retrenchment of the American empire. At first, this took the form of an unexpected bromance between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

    When Kim took issue with joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea, Trump abruptly promised to halt them during his first summit with Kim in Singapore last year, adding he wants to pull American troops out of the Korean Peninsula some day.

    Richard Haass, the head of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said Trump's exorbitant defense bill was designed to be rejected, providing him with an excuse to pull his troops out of South Korea.

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