July 20, 2020 13:36
The Pentagon came under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to consider slashing American troops in Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday.
"The Pentagon has presented the White House with options to reduce the American military presence in South Korea as the two countries remain at odds over President Trump's demand that Seoul greatly increase how much it pays for the U.S. troops stationed in the country," the daily wrote.
According to the daily, the White House ordered the Department of Defense last year to work out ideas to pull American troops out of the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Pentagon whittled this down to a number of options, including the U.S. Forces Korea, and presented them to the White House in March this year.
The WSJ did not specify what exact options it presented. The Pentagon refused to comment on the story and would only say that it is "routinely reviews the preparedness posture of American troops around the world."
Trump has been riding a narrative that America's allies do not pay enough for their own defense, and Korea is a particular bugbear. But Congress has put various safeguards in place to keep troops here at the current level, and both Republican and Democratic parties responded to the WSJ report by accusing Trump of "strategic incompetence."
On July 1, USFK Commander Robert Abrams called such concerns completely baseless. In an editorial the same day, the Wall Street Journal stressed the need for safeguards because Trump is unpredictable.
The National Defense Authorization Act, the backbone of U.S. defense budgets, prohibits the president from unilaterally slashing American troops in South Korea from the current level of 28,500. If Trump still wants to cut the USFK, the defense secretary must prove that the decision is in the interest of the national security of the U.S. and its allies and Korea and Japan have been consulted.
The only realistic option would therefore be not to redeploy about 4,500 troops of the First Brigade of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division, who are deployed on rotation here every nine months. The First Brigade are the only U.S. ground combat troops on the Korean Peninsula and would play a key role in repulsing attacks from North Korea in a war.
Shin Jong-woo at the Korea Defense and Security Forum said, "It won't be easy to change the structure of the First Brigade because most of it is closely linked with overall operational plans."
The Defense Ministry here merely reiterated that Korean and U.S. defense authorities have "never discussed anything about troop reduction."
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