The U.S. Army will deploy a mechanized infantry battalion made up of advanced battle tanks to South Korea to bolster defense on the peninsula as part of a rotational force, Seoul's defense ministry said Tuesday.
The battalion armed with M1A2 battle tanks and M2A3 armored infantry fighting vehicles will depart their base on Thursday to join the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division stationed in South Korea, military officials said.
About 800 American service members will serve in North Gyeonggi Province, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, as part of planned enhancements to American forces in the country, they said.
"The U.S. Department of Defense is consistently pushing for rotational deployments of its forces across the world to meet requirements of commanders. The deployment of the U.S. Army's mechanized infantry battalion to South Korea seems part of this policy," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing. "South Korea and the U.S. have been cooperating to step up deterrence capability on the Korean Peninsula."
Kim did not elaborate on the base location and duration of their missions in Korea, citing ongoing consultations to fine-tune details of the rotational force.
Seoul officials consider the latest deployment shows the U.S. commitment to the military rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region amid rising tensions in the strategically important region.
It also comes at a time when South Korean and U.S. forces have been beefing up their vigilance against potential political instability in North Korea following the execution of young leader Kim Jong-un's once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek.
When asked whether the latest decision was made in consideration of potential changes in the Pyongyang regime, Kim said the deployment had been planned well ahead of Jang's purge as part of the U.S. military rebalancing policy.
Last September, a U.S. Army attack reconnaissance squadron returned to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, after missions in Iraq with 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
In April 2013, a U.S. chemical battalion was also redeployed to Camp Stanley in Euijeongbu, just north of Seoul, nine years after it withdrew from the peninsula in 2003.
About 28,500 American service members are stationed in South Korea to help deter aggression from North Korea. (Yonhap News)