Korea, US seek to transform front-line American unit into joint forces
South Korea and the United States are seeking to transform a front-line American military unit near the border with North Korea into joint forces of the two allies to better deter the communist nation, a senior military source said Friday.
The proposed transformation, if realized, would likely mean that the 2nd Infantry Division won't move away from the border with the North under a force realignment plan, and continue to play a "tripwire" role deterring North Korean aggression, the source said.
The forward-deployed division, which has been considered a symbol of the Korea-U.S. military alliance, is currently scheduled to move to Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, once South Korea takes over wartime operational control of its troops in December 2015.
"If the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division is transformed into a joint unit, it will likely remain north of the Han River," the source said. "I believe it will play a tripwire role triggering automatic U.S. military involvement in the event North Korea attacked the South."
The armies of the two countries are in "in-depth discussions" on the transformation, which, if realized, "would have the effect of demonstrating strong deterrence intentions toward North Korea," the source said.
In the case of such a transformation, an American artillery unit under the 2nd Infantry Division will also likely remain in its current base in Dongducheon, 40 km north of Seoul, the source said. The unit has some 30 pieces of a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) with a rage of 45 kilometers, which can be used to strike long-range artillery and mechanized units in the North.
The proposed transformation emerged as the two allies discuss ways to keep anti-North Korea deterrence strong after South Korea regains wartime operational command over its troops, military officials said.
"Military authorities of the two countries have been putting forth various ideas and opinions on how to maintain the new defense system in a solid manner," a military official said. "If these ideas are realized, the new defense system will become as strong as the current level."
Officials also said that South Korea's military and the U.S. forces are in the middle of drawing up appendix documents on a contingency plan on how to respond to limited North Korean provocations. The documents could be signed before the annual defense ministers' meeting in October, they said. (Yonhap)