YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Half of the U.S. Army’s Apache helicopter force will permanently leave the peninsula next year for a new stateside home, military officials said Sunday.

The 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, currently stationed at Camp Eagle in Wonju, will move to Ft. Carson, Colo., in March, according to a press release from U.S. Forces Korea.

The relocation will allow the regiment to prepare for an upcoming deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to USFK spokesman Dave Palmer.

That deployment is scheduled for fall of 2009, Palmer wrote Sunday in response to questions.

The battalion includes 24 AH-64 Apache Longbow helicopters, about 500 soldiers and about 150 family members, Palmer wrote in an e-mail.

A second helicopter battalion – the 4th Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment – will remain in South Korea at Camp Humphreys. Both battalions currently belong to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade.

“Our capability to protect the Republic of Korea is not diminished,” Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil, the commander of U.S. Eighth Army, said in a statement Sunday. “The U.S. remains fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and the overall security and stability of the region.”

To replace the Apaches, the military will send 12 A-10 jets to South Korea in March 2009 as part of a rotational deployment, according to Palmer. The jets will be on the peninsula for six months and will provide a longer range and larger munitions capability when compared with the helicopters, according to Palmer and the press release.

Also, two MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopters will deploy to South Korea from Iwakuni, Japan. These are capable of airborne sweeps and mine destruction, according to Palmer.

A U-2 reconnaissance squadron at Osan Air Base will increase in capacity, though. Palmer had no details Sunday on what that increase would involve.

Overall, the number of U.S. forces in South Korea will remain at the current level of about 28,500, the press release said.

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