US won't send Okinawa marines to S. Korea: Pentagon

The US will not send to South Korea some of its marines to be pulled out of Okinawa, Japan, the Pentagon told The Korea Herald.

Maj. Cathy Wilkinson, a spokeswoman of the US Defense Department, dismissed speculation that they will be dispatched to Korea on a rotational basis.

Washington and Tokyo announced in April that they agreed to move some 9,000 US Marines from the island to Guam and other locations in the Asia-Pacific. Reports had said that the US was considering sending some of them to Korea, possibly around the western coast, to help bolster deterrence against North Korea.

"The [US] Defense Department has no plans to relocate marines from Okinawa to South Korea," she said in an email interview.

Washington, facing massive budget cuts, has been trying to reset its defense priorities while focusing on its troops' strategic flexibility.

The reports on the marines' relocation caused concerns that the presence of US troops specializing in amphibious landing operations could provoke Pyongyang and Beijing, particularly when tension has increased due to Pyongyang's continuing saber-rattling, such as the botched rocket launch in April.

Experts say that although the US Marines could stay here for a short period of time for exercise purposes, it may be difficult for them to be stationed here as the US seeks to scale back defense spending and would have to build facilities to accommodate them.

"For the US, it is of course burdensome to deploy marines to South Korea given the budget required to accommodate them here," said Lee Dae-woo, senior fellow at Sejong Institute.

"Should it have to send the marines to this region, it is highly likely that they would be dispatched to the Philippines as there are growing maritime disputes in the South China Sea. As South Korea has a presidential election this year, domestic political conditions are not good for that as well."

After the North shelled South Korea's border island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010, killing two marines and two civilians, some experts floated the idea of stationing US Marines on some of the five border islands in the West Sea as a warning signal to the belligerent state.

After the announcement last year of the South Korean Marines' plan to build barracks on Baengnyeongdo that could also accommodate US troops, speculation over the possibility of the US Marines dispatch here was reinforced.

The barracks that could accommodate some 100 troops are to be completed by 2013, the Marine Corps said.

The allied marines hold a joint amphibious landing exercise and battalion-level drills about once a year, each. The latest joint exercise was the regiment-level Ssangyong exercise that took place in the southeastern coastal city of Pohang in March.

The US has around 28,500 troops on the Korean Peninsula, mainly as deterrence against North Korean aggression and provocations. It is working to relocate its troops in Seoul and north of the capital down to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, as part of its global troop realignment scheme designed for "strategic mobility."

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