For the first time, the United States will deploy forces based in South Korea to another hot spot, relocating roughly 3,600 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from South Korea to Iraq, a senior Pentagon official confirmed Monday.

“At this point, with notification [to troops and allies], we intend to proceed with the formalities of this relocation over the next week or two,” said a senior defense official who spoke Monday with reporters on the condition his name not be used.

While no Army units have been tapped immediately to replace the departing soldiers, no decision has been made as to whether the move translates into a permanent 10 percent reduction of U.S. troops deployed to the peninsula, the official said.

“That decision has not been made,” he said. “This is a one year rotation … and I think that one year will give us adequate time to consult with our allies … to make a decision as to the disposition of the unit when it’s relocated out of Iraq.”

The soldiers are deploying on the Army standard “up to one year” orders, but that translates into possible two-year tours for some who already have been in South Korea for a year, said a senior military official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

“What could occur is you will have some folks who will have a tour of 18 to 24 months, far more between 12 and 18 months,” the military official said.

Pentagon leaders picked the brigade, in part, because it is one of few within the Army that has not already been to either Iraq or Afghanistan. They will be part of the third rotation of U.S. forces in Iraq, set to begin transitioning into the combat theater later this summer.

The shift would mean removing almost one-third of the U.S. front-line troops in South Korea. The 14,000-strong 2nd ID is deployed north of Seoul in an array of bases near the Demilitarized Zone. About 37,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Not since 1953, when the Armistice Agreement was signed, have U.S. forces been moved from South Korea to another contingency, said William Donnelly, a historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History at Fort McNair in Washington.

“No Army forces, at least not from combat elements, have been deployed to another theater for active operations against another enemy,” Donnelly said. “In terms of what’s been done with divisions … at least for the combat divisions in Korea since ’53 and up until this point, they’ve never been pulled out to be used in another theater of operation.”

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a top aide to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice informed the South Korean government of the plans early Monday.

“This morning, around 9:30 a.m. (local South Korea time), NSA’s Stephen Hadley informed us that the U.S. needs more forces and that sending some troops from Korea seems inevitable,” Kim Sook, director general of the ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, said at a Monday afternoon news conference in Seoul. “They informed us of their situation and their need to pull troops from Korea, and requested our understanding.”

President Bush spoke with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi via telephone Monday.

South Korean and U.S. officials have stated previously that even if U.S. troops in South Korea were moved to Iraq, the U.S. would guarantee a strong deterrent force against North Korea. U.S. officials have promised $11 billion in technical upgrades to U.S. and South Korean high-tech weaponry in the country over the next three years.

“It is not the number of U.S. forces that remains in Korea that is important,” said Kim. “It is important that the U.S. presence will continue to exist. The deployment will not raise the North’s threat against the South.”

The U.S. and South Korean militaries continue to work toward shifting more military power the South Koreans, including the gradual handing over of patrol duties of the Demilitarized Zone by U.S. forces.

“Our ally, the Republic of Korea, has a large, modern, and very capable armed force and contributes nearly 700,000 troops to the combined defense,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico. “The U.S. will maintain its commitment to the defense of Korea and to the security and stability of the region.”

Stripes’ Jennifer Kleckner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now