SEOUL, South Korea -- The U.S. wants to keep an artillery brigade stationed near the Demilitarized Zone after the planned relocation of American forces to the southern half of South Korea, according to media reports.
The request to keep the 2nd Infantry Division's 210th Fires Brigade at Camp Casey was made earlier this week during military consultations in Seoul, according to South Korea's Yonhap News. U.S. officials claimed that moving the brigade would hurt its combat readiness, and have "repeatedly and strongly" pushed to keep the unit in Dongducheon, the report said, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.
Officials from South Korea's Ministry of National Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff would not comment Friday. But earlier this month, South Korean officials said the U.S. would not leave residual forces along the DMZ, though American officials didn't rule out the prospect of leaving some troops behind "temporarily."
A spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea said Friday that "any decision to temporarily leave U.S. forces north of the Han (River) will be based on operational necessity. The goal of all (South Korean) and U.S. alliance initiatives is to build adaptive capabilities to deter and defeat future provocations and fight and win should deterrence fail."
The long-delayed relocation, which hinges on the expansion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, is scheduled for 2016-17, military officials have said. But the possibility of leaving specific units near the DMZ, including the 210th, has long been floated as a deterrent to North Korea.
USFK commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said last November that the U.S. and South Korea were considering keeping residual forces in Area I, which includes the cities of Dongducheon and Uijeongbu, after the relocation.
"There may be a need, operationally, to leave some residual in those areas just for proper defense and response," he said. "It is a sensitive issue, but we will work our way through it and do what is best for Korea and what is best for the defense of Korea."
The possibility that U.S. troops could remain in Area I after the relocation has angered local residents because of a variety of concerns, including servicemember crime, noise and base pollution. The head of the Dongducheon City Assembly, Jang Young Mi, said Friday that the city already has development plans for the land occupied by U.S. bases and that residents feel as though their wishes are being ignored.
"Residents won't stand by and let this happen," she said, adding that citizens formed a task force early this year to push for the relocation to take place in 2016.
The U.S. and South Korea are also discussing whether to postpone the planned December 2015 transfer of wartime operational control, which now falls under U.S. leadership, with some South Korea media reports claiming Seoul wants a delay of five to eight years. A decision is expected next month.