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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — With the Yongsan Garrison relocation seemingly settled, South Korean and U.S. officials this week are hashing out an even touchier subject: removing around one-third of the American servicemembers on the Korean Peninsula.

Negotiators from both nations are meeting in Seoul on Thursday and Friday for the 11th round of the Future of the Alliance (FOTA) talks, addressing a U.S. proposal to send home 12,500 troops by the end of next year. South Korea, fearing the perception of “security vacuum” amid the North Korea nuclear standoff, has said it wants any reduction to be delayed by at least one year.

About 3,600 troops already have left; U.S. officials said earlier this summer that the 2nd Infantry Division 2nd Brigade, on a one-year deployment to Iraq, likely would be part of the 12,500 troops removed.

According to South Korean media reports Wednesday, the South Korean side also will ask that weapons systems — including Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and Apache helicopter assets — not be removed along with the troops.

U.S. officials repeatedly have said any reduction of “boots on the ground” would be accompanied by an increase in “capabilities.” Over the next three years, the U.S. has committed $11 billion in high-tech upgrades. As part of that, air assets including a stealth fighter squadron and an F-15E Strike Eagle squadron are here this summer for training missions.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reiterated the U.S. position this week, after President Bush announced his intention Monday to bring home around 70,000 servicemembers and 100,000 civilians over the next decade. The bulk of that number would be from Europe, officials said.

“The deterrent will not be weakened in any way. It is a mistake, in my view, to equate numbers with lethality and capability,” Rumsfeld said Tuesday in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

At this week’s FOTA meetings, representatives are expected to officially sign the agreement on Yongsan Garrison. By 2008, all U.S. forces now stationed there are to move out of Seoul and onto a new military hub in Pyongtaek.

About 7,000 U.S. personnel — including the headquarters of U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command and 8th Army — are at Yongsan.

After lengthy negotiations, the two sides finally agreed at the 10th round of FOTA talks last month on the size of land allotments to be granted for the new hub. The timetable for the move also was pushed back one year, to 2008.


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