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Battalion heading for rotational deployment near DMZ

A U.S. soldier walks forward while a South Korean soldier stands ready as three North Korean soldiers approach the demarcation line at the Joint Security Area, South Korea, July 27, 2013. Both U.S. and South Korean soldiers are United Nations Command Security Battalion members.

SEOUL, South Korea — A U.S. cavalry battalion will soon deploy near the Demilitarized Zone to beef up defensive capabilities in South Korea and increase the long-term force presence there, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

About 800 soldiers from the Army’s 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, will deploy Feb. 1 with wheeled and tracked vehicles to Camps Hovey and Stanley, officials said.

The equipment, including about 40 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 40 M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicles, will remain in Korea for the next rotation of troops after current troops finish their 9-month deployment. As a result, the continual U.S. troop presence of 28,500 is expected to increase to about 29,300.

“This plus-up is part of the rebalance” of U.S. military and diplomatic presence in the Pacific region, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said Tuesday. “It’s been long-planned, it’s part of our enduring commitment to security on the Korean peninsula. This gives the commanders in Korea an additional capability — two companies of tanks, two companies of Bradleys.”

Prior to the Pentagon announcement, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense had said a mechanized infantry unit would depart the United States on Thursday and remain in northern Gyeonggi province with the 2nd Infantry Division for nine months, he said.

A second MND spokesman said the move was not due to concerns about instability in North Korea following last month’s execution of Jang Song-thaek, uncle and close adviser to young leader Kim Jong Un. The execution has heightened speculation that the North, which held its third nuclear test last year and followed it with a period of intensified threats of war, may soon conduct another provocation to solidify Kim’s power.

The U.S. military’s use of rotational forces in South Korea appears to be increasing. Last September, it announced plans for a nine-month rotational deployment of the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to Camp Humphreys. The air reconnaissance squadron includes about 380 soldiers and 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

In late September, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the U.S. and South Korea were talking about potential changes in the American troops and equipment sent to the peninsula. While the U.S. commitment remained the same, he said “there are a couple of other capabilities we’d like to get over here … (to) thicken our deterrence and our defense.”

Any new units and capabilities sent to Korea “will probably be rotational,” Dempsey said.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

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