WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is sending an additional Army combat force of 800 soldiers to South Korea with tanks and armored troop carriers, and pledged Tuesday to continue to modernize its military capability to face any threat posed by North Korea.
The announcement on the troop increase came as Secretary of State John Kerry met in Washington with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se. Kerry reiterated that the U.S. would maintain its nuclear defense for South Korea, a key Asian ally, and would not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.
The U.S. already has about 28,500 troops in South Korea as an expression of commitment to its defense against North Korean aggression. An armistice, but not a peace treaty, halted the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Concern over the North's development of weapons of mass destruction has intensified in past year, as it has launched a long-range rocket and conducted its third nuclear test explosion.
"We remain fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, including through extended deterrence and putting the full range of U.S. military capabilities in place. We will continue to modernize our capabilities so that we are prepared to face any threat," Kerry said after meeting Yun at the State Department.
The 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, will deploy to two locations in South Korea on Feb. 1, the Pentagon said in a statement.
A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said the increase in troop strength and firepower had been in the planning stages for more than a year and is part of a "rebalance" of U.S. military power toward the Asia-Pacific region.
Kerry said the lion's share of his discussions with Yun were on North Korea, particularly events in recent weeks, but neither official made direct reference last month's execution of Jang Song Thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un.
Jang was accused of corruption and trying to overthrow the government. His fate shattered the North's carefully cultivated illusion of total unity in the authoritarian state, and has raised questions over the stability of Kim's two-year-old leadership.
Yun said that in the event of any North Korean provocation, "the South Korea and United States will firmly respond based on our robust combined defense posture."
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.