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Proposal would leave combined division north of Seoul

Dongducheon residents and members of the Dongucheon City Council protest the possible long-term presence of U.S. soldiers in their city Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in front of the Ministry of National Defense headquarters in Seoul. U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said last week that the U.S. and South Korea are discussing the possibility of establishing a combined division and leaving "residual" U.S. forces in Area I after the relocation of most U.S. troops to installations south of the capital.

SEOUL — The U.S. and South Korea are considering creation of a combined division that would be stationed near the Demilitarized Zone after most U.S. forces move to installations south of Seoul.

The two allies are also considering the possibility of keeping “residual” U.S. forces in Area I after the relocation, now set for 2016, according to U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.

During a Nov. 25 media briefing in Seoul, he told defense reporters that both issues were under consideration but no decisions have been made. However, he said a combined division is a “strong possibility” that would “be a strong additive to our alliance.”

Regarding U.S. forces remaining in Area I, which includes Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu and Camp Casey in Dongducheon, Scaparrotti said: “There may be a need, operationally, to leave some residual in those areas just for proper defense and response.”

“It is a sensitive issue, but we will work our way through it and do what is best for Korea and what is best for the defense of Korea,” he said.

Scaparrotti’s acknowledgement that some troops could remain in Area I has both surprised and angered some who expected to see the 2nd Infantry Division leave their cities and has prompted calls for banishment of the new USFK commander, who assumed leadership just two months ago.

“This is the slaughter of Dongducheon citizens,” city councilman Lim Sang-O said, adding that keeping American soldiers in his city will slow or halt plans to develop land now used by the U.S. military. “They are groaning that Scaparrotti must be exiled from this country.”

U.S. Forces Korea said this week that a combined division “is a very preliminary view at this point and is pre-decisional.”

“Any decision will be a result of the consultative process working through bilateral negotiations by our two governments,” a statement issued by the command said.

An official with the South Korean Ministry of National Defense’s U.S. Policy Division, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the two countries have had “conceptual” talks but no official discussions about creating a unit of 2ID and South Korean soldiers.

He did not know when or if the issue would be discussed further, and said preliminary talks have not addressed either the makeup or leadership of a combined division.

Lim was among several Dongducheon city officials protesting outside the MND headquarters in Seoul on Monday. Afterward, they met with senior U.S. and South Korean representatives from the Combined Forces Command and presented them with a statement complaining about the possible combined division and residual Area I troop presence.

“As a result, 100,000 Dongducheon citizens are very frustrated and feel angry. So, you must explain about that,” it said.

USFK provided no additional information to Stars and Stripes about the proposed combined division, including whether the idea was supported by previous USFK commander Gen. James Thurman.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

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