The US military plans to deploy an armored battalion to South Korea to allow for “greater responsiveness” in case of a crisis with North Korea, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
Eight hundred troops and armored vehicles from the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment will be stationed at camps Hovey and Stanley near the demarcation line with the North starting next month, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The rotational deployment is part of a strategic shift towards the Asia-Pacific region “and allows for greater responsiveness to better meet theater operational requirements,” it said.
Washington has 28,500 troops on the ground in the South and a treaty with Seoul calls for the US military commander to lead both the American contingent and South Korea’s 640,000-strong force in case of a war with the North.
During peacetime, each side maintains operational command of their own troops.
South Korea agreed to take over wartime operational command of all troops starting in 2015, after delaying a previous target date in 2012.
Tensions with North Korea have prompted Seoul to reconsider the plan, and the South has asked Washington to review the timing of the scheduled transition.
The “combat ready” cavalry unit will stay in South Korea for a nine-month tour but will leave its armored vehicles behind for troops that follow them, the Pentagon said.
The announcement came a day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosted South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se for talks at the Pentagon.
“The two discussed the importance of maintaining a robust combined defense of the Korean Peninsula as a strong deterrent against provocations from North Korea,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
South Korea and the United States have called for vigilance against possible provocations after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered the execution of his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, for an alleged plot.