WASHINGTON — A chemical warfare battalion will soon move from the United States to South Korea, beefing up the U.S. military’s capabilities in a region menaced by the threat of North Korean nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Army announced this week.
The move of the 61st and 62nd chemical companies, as well as the headquarters and headquarters detachment of the 23rd Chemical Battalion — nearly 300 soldiers in total — is scheduled to be complete early next year.
The battalion will provide “nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance, equipment decontamination and consequence management assistance” to support U.S. and South Korean forces, according to an Army statement.
It will initially be assigned to Camp Stanley and later move to Camp Humphreys once facilities there are complete, Army spokesman Wayne Hall said.
The relocation of the 23rd Chemical Battalion “is strictly defensive and designed to increase readiness to defend [South Korea], protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula,” a 2nd Infantry Division statement said.
The move, which comes amid a U.S. “rebalance” aimed at putting more military and diplomatic muscle in the Asia-Pacific region, is not in response to recent intelligence about North Korean intentions, Hall said. The unpredictable, autocratic regime to the north is believed to have a few nuclear weapons as well as a large stockpile of chemical weapons.
“Unit moves are made after detailed analysis of worldwide requirements and take years to complete,” he said. “This is not something that happened yesterday or was planned in the last few months.”
Hall said part of the analysis was based on a calculation that once the move is complete, the Army will recoup $1.8 million a year through lower base operational support costs in South Korea.
The battalion move will upgrade U.S. capabilities in a place where war is always a possibility.
“In Korea, like no other place on the globe, the potential for large-scale, full-spectrum conflict against the U.S. and its allies exists on a daily basis,” the 2nd ID statement said. “The 23rd Chemical Battalion brings specialized experience and expertise to 2ID in conducting operations to counter chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, and high-yield explosive threats.”
Maj. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, the 2ID commander, said, “As we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our [South Korean] allies, we are dedicated to ensuring that our soldiers are organized, equipped and trained for any threat they may face.”
The 23rd Chemical Battalion was previously stationed in South Korea, but transitioned to the U.S. during a realignment of forces in 2004.