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Pentagon noncommittal about calls for return of Apache units to Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― The Pentagon remained mum Friday about the possible return of combat and scout helicopters to South Korea with the war in Afghanistan winding down.

The commander of U.S. forces in Korea, Gen. James Thurman, has argued for such a move to the Hawaii-based Pacific Command and most recently on Capitol Hill.

“Gen. Thurman has provided his assessments to PACOM, the Joint Staff, the Army ― and now Congress in his testimony; however, no decisions have been made,” an official at the Defense Department told Yonhap News Agency.

Speaking to lawmakers in Washington earlier last week, Thurman pointed out his forces on the peninsula lack a proper complement of combat aviation.

He said he has requested a return of aviation forces that were moved out of Korea to “meet requirements for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He did not elaborate.

Defense experts say he was apparently referring to two battalions of Apache attack helicopters, nimble and efficient not only to counter North Korea’s threats but also assist reconnaissance along the demilitarized zone.

Despite the general’s calls, sources said, chances are small that the Pentagon will send the units back to Korea in the face of huge budget cuts. It is unclear precisely where the units are now.

The department official, meanwhile, reiterated Washington’s commitment to the alliance with Seoul.

“We are committed to the ROK-U.S. alliance, the defense of the ROK and the stability and prosperity of Northeast Asia,” the official said on the customary condition of anonymity. “And as the strategic guidance indicates, we will be fully prepared to deter and defeat aggression.”
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