An estimated 37,000 troops are based in South Korea with as many as 14,000 on duty along the DMZ.
The DMZ, 155 miles long and two miles wide, has been guarded by a heavy U.S. troop presence since the end of fighting on the peninsula in 1953. Under the original cease-fire agreement, North Korea and South Korea technically remain in a state of war.
U.S. military officials say the move will provide a more flexible, less intrusive military presence in South Korea and enhance the United States’ ability to defend its longtime ally. U.S. officials plan to train and equip South Korean troops to replace some of the withdrawn U.S. soldiers, according to news reports.
“The essence of what we’re trying to do is to make sure that the forces we have here on the peninsula can respond quickly and immediately, even before reinforcements arrive, if there were ever to be an attack,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in the South Korean capital, Seoul, on Monday, The Washington Post reported.
Under the pullback plan, the main portion of U.S. forces will be stationed at bases near Seoul, around 75 miles from the DMZ, according to a joint statement released by the U.S. and South Korean governments.
South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun called for a reduced presence of U.S. troops in the South during his campaign for office last year, but has since said a strong U.S. force is needed to defend his country.
The U.S. and South Korean officials have reportedly reached an agreement on the timetable for the pullback, but neither side has indicated when it will begin.