The top commander of the U.S. Army said Thursday a war on the Korean Peninsula would be the most difficult and dangerous scenario for his troops as they seek to transform themselves into a smaller but more mobile force.
"A war on the Korean Peninsula would be incredibly difficult...If we had a fight on the Korean Peninsula, that would be incredibly dangerous," Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, said at a forum here.
He was answering a question about what area of the world would be the most dangerous to deploy his troops in a future contingency.
The general cited a "very complex environment" on the peninsula, given North Korea's war preparedness and advanced capability.
He visited South Korea last month as part of a regional trip that also took him to China and Japan.
He especially voiced concerns about "miscalculation," either by the North or the South, on the peninsula divided under the 1953 Armistice Agreement that effectively ended the three-year Korean War.
"We don't want miscalculation and so it's important for us to provide support necessary, so we don't have miscalculation which could lead to unwanted provocations on the peninsula," he told the forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Odierno said the Army will continue a "rotational presence" in Korea, which he said would actually increase combat readiness and capability.
Earlier this year, the U.S. deployed a mechanized vehicle battalion and an Army attack reconnaissance helicopter unit to Korea on a short-term basis. Around 28,500 American soldiers, mostly ground troops, are stationed in South Korea for longer tours of at least a year.
The general described it as ushering in a change in how the U.S. security commitment to Korea is executed.
"But it won't change the nature of the relationship," he said.
He said, however, the transfer of operational control (OPCON) of South Korean troops to Seoul in the event of war will affect the level of support the U.S. provides.
"But until that time, we will continue to provide the support that we believe is necessary in order to sustain stability on the Korean Peninsula," he said.
Under the current agreement, South Korea is scheduled to regain OPCON in December 2015, six decades after handing it over to the U.S.-led U.N. forces deployed to counter the invading North.
South Korea's Park Geun-hye administration has requested a further delay in the transition, saying the North's nuclear and missile threats have grown.
The allies are in consultations over appropriate conditions for the transfer.
The U.S. Army is endeavoring to adapt itself to new circumstances in the era of defense budget cuts after more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon plans to reduce the number of ground forces from the current 520,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 over the coming years.