Bush insists redeployment does not lessen commitment to South Korea

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The Independent US

The US military is so over-stretched by the deployment in Iraq that the Pentagon plans to shift 4,000 troops from the Korean peninsula to bolster forces in Iraq ahead of the scheduled transfer of power on 30 June.

The US military is so over-stretched by the deployment in Iraq that the Pentagon plans to shift 4,000 troops from the Korean peninsula to bolster forces in Iraq ahead of the scheduled transfer of power on 30 June.

President George Bush phoned his South Korean opposite number Roh Moo-hyun to explain that the move did not affect the commitment of the US to defend the South against an attack from North Korea.

The decision fits in with long standing plans to reduce the front line US military presence in South Korea, where 37,000 American soldiers have long acted as a "trip wire" against an invasion from the North.

But it is an open admission of how difficulties in Iraq are having a ripple effect on US military planning in distant theatres. Fears have been expressed that the draw down will send the wrong message to North Korea - just when the reclusive Pyongyang regime is believed to be building nuclear weapons.

The redeployment bears out the warning last year by General Eric Shinseki, the departing army chief of staff, whoresigned after telling Congress that an occupation force of "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed in Iraq. The Pentagon, which ignored his warning, had hoped to reduce troop strength to 115,000 by now, but experts say the current force of 135,000 is not large enough to ensure security.

Meanwhile, the Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi faced new pressure to pull out troops and distance himself from the US after the first combat death of an Italian soldier in Iraq on Sunday.

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