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U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. B.B. Bell, who oversaw the deployment of Germany- and Italy-based soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan and also wrote the plan to downsize the Army’s presence in Europe, has been nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

Bell would succeed Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte.

“If the nomination is confirmed by the Senate, (wife) Katie and I will welcome the challenges and opportunities this new assignment brings,” Bell said Tuesday in a statement issued by the USAREUR public affairs office.

A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday he did not know if LaPorte was retiring or being reassigned and did not know who would replace Bell at USAREUR headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. The Department of Army Public Affairs Office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

U.S. Forces Korea officials did not comment Tuesday on whether LaPorte would be reassigned or retire.

Issues that would confront Bell in South Korea include the scheduled reduction of U.S. forces there from 37,500 to 25,000 by 2008; the possible rotation of troops into war zones; and ensuring U.S. and South Korean troops are prepared to defend the nation against aggressors.

The U.S. is undergoing a major repositioning of its forces in South Korea in which the number of its installations would be reduced from 41 to 10. The goal, U.S. Forces Korea officials have said, is to create a less intrusive, more flexible configuration of American forces on the peninsula.

Most of the troops stationed in South Korea are soldiers, but the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force also have a presence there. South Korea is home to two major U.S. air bases, in Kunsan and Osan.

In case of war on the Korean peninsula, Bell could deploy U.S. troops for service to the Combined Forces Command, a joint U.S./South Korea military command, of which he also would be commander.

Bell’s new job also includes leadership of the U.N. Command in South Korea, which was formed in 1954 to enforce the armistice that ended the Korean War.

Bell, a Tennessee native, assumed command of USAREUR in December 2002, succeeding Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.

Since then, Bell has deployed thousands of Europe-based soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, including ones from the Wiesbaden, Germany-based 1st Armored Division, the Würzburg, Germany-based 1st Infantry Division and the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force.

When the 1st AD’s Iraq deployment was extended from 12 months to 15 months in spring 2004, Bell ordered his Army subordinates to bend rules if necessary to accommodate the families of extended soldiers.

Bell also authored the Army’s plan to reduce the number of soldiers stationed in Europe from 62,000 to 24,000 and reduce the number of Army hubs from 13 to four. The transformation is scheduled to take place over the next five to 10 years, beginning next year with the 1st ID’s exodus from Germany.

In March 2004, Bell also assumed command of NATO’s Allied Land Component Command, also located in Heidelberg.

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