SEOUL — The U.S. Army in Korea may soon have fewer Korean soldiers in their units in coming years, officials from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed last week.

Ministry officials said their plan to reduce their overall troop strength from 680,000 to 500,000 by 2012 also would affect the number of Korean Augmentees to the U.S. Army — or KATUSA.

About 3,800 KATUSA live and work with U.S. units, according to 8th Army officials. In addition to their normal military duties, they also serve as translators. More than half the KATUSA are stationed in the Seoul area.

Maj. Jerome Pionk, 8th Army spokesman, said the South Korean soldiers perform vital functions.

He said he was unaware of any plan to downsize the KATUSA force.

U.S. Forces Korea also continues to downsize, with an end goal of about 25,000 troops by 2008, down 12,500 over a period of several years. USFK staffing currently is under 30,000, with about 20,000 soldiers in 8th Army, officials said.

All able-bodied South Korean men are required to perform about two years of government service, in the military, in the police force or working for state-funded institutions, according to defense officials.

But under a defense ministry initiative, service time for South Korean conscripts will be reduced by about six months.

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