U.S. will slow withdrawal of troops from S. Korea

11,000, one-third of force, to be pulled over 3 years


SEOUL, South Korea - In response to heavy South Korean pressure, the United States has agreed to stretch out over the next three years the withdrawal of one-third of American troops here, dropping an earlier deadline of next year, U.S. and South Korean officials said yesterday.

Washington had announced the withdrawal in June, over objections from South Korea.

This summer, 3,500 American soldiers left here for Iraq, the first of a total of 5,000 American troops to be withdrawn this year from South Korea.

Under the new schedule, the next 5,000 are to leave by the end of 2006.

The final 2,500 are to leave by the end of 2008, according to a new calendar announced yesterday by the U.S. Embassy and the South Korean Defense Ministry.

In addition, the United States will leave in place many of its Apache ground-attack helicopters and its multiple-launch rocket systems, also known as counter-batteries, which are designed to locate and destroy North Korean artillery cannons that might fire on South Korea.

Yesterday, South Korea's military praised the new timetable for "fully taking into consideration the concerns" of the Korean public.

The drawdown was sparked by a series of motives: the need for combat-ready soldiers in Iraq, Washington's frustration with a perceived lack of appreciation here for the American military presence and a desire to shift U.S. troops here from serving as human "tripwires."

Under the tripwire strategy, in vogue here and in Washington since the Korean War ended half a century ago, a North Korean invasion that causes American casualties would immediately galvanize the American public to defend South Korea.

The new plan is to move U.S. troops south of the Han River, out of North Korean artillery range, to new bases.

From there, they are to coordinate a counterattack from the south.

In times of low tension on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. troops would deploy to regional trouble spots.

The United States is also spending $11 billion to improve defense installations and equipment in South Korea in a three-year program.

In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a firm supporter of military cooperation with the United States, has suggested that some American units be moved off Okinawa, a small southern island that is base to about 22,000 of the 37,585 American troops assigned to Japan.

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