Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has assured South Koreans that the U.S. will not lessen its commitment to defend their country as it adjusts its military "footprint" around the world in the light of the new security environment.
On the contrary, Rumsfeld told a gathering Tuesday of the U.S.-Korea Business Council, the U.S. planned over the next four years to make "a substantial investment" in its military alliance, "strengthening more than 150 of our various military capabilities," even as Seoul would improve its own capabilities.
On the same day he addressed the meeting in Washington, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) announced that as of Friday, it will fly a new type of unmanned spy plane near the North Korean border.
The mini-planes to be deployed are the Shadow-200 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division used in the Iraq campaign.
The move is part of a planned $11-billion investment in 150 programs to "enhance U.S. defensive capabilities" on the peninsula, the USFK said in a statement.
It said the system would "contribute to the overall deterrence U.S. forces brings to the alliance" with South Korea, offering "real time, accurate and relevant intelligence of he battle field."
Around 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea under a military pact that marks its 50th anniversary next month.
An upsurge in anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea late last year prompted some conservative commentators at home to call for an end to the deployment, which has been in place since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean war.
This year, the two governments have discussed re-arranging USFK basing, and in June it was announced that some 14,000 infantry troops were being pulled back from the demilitarized zone (DMZ), to "hub bases" south of the capital.
Rumsfeld told the business gathering that the changes will include expanding the role of South Korean forces in defending their country, relocating the USFK's large Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, and consolidating the forces around key hubs.
He said new technologies and capabilities would result in "a more capable and sustainable U.S. military presence on the peninsula."
"While the size and shape of the U.S. footprint in the world and the region may evolve - and indeed it will evolve, not just in Northeast Asia but in Europe and elsewhere across the globe - we're addressing this subject in an important way," he assured his audience.
"There certainly would be no change at all in our commitment to the defense of South Korea, and just let there be no doubt about that."
Rumsfeld, who is set to visit Seoul next month, also expressed the view that communism would eventually crumble in North Korea as it had elsewhere.
"While the situation in North Korea sometimes looks bleak, I'm convinced that one day freedom will come to the people of the North and light up that oppressed land with hope and with promise," he said.
See earlier story:
US Mulls Troop Reduction, But S. Korean Gov't Wary (Mar. 7, 2003)
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