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US Defense Chief Says American-Korean Alliance Still Strong


United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reaffirmed that Washington's military commitment to South Korea will remain strong, well after the South makes a key move toward autonomy in its command structure. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates presided over Tuesday's change of command ceremony, replacing Marine General Burwell Bell with Army Lieutenant General Walter Sharp as the head of American forces here.

The United States deploys about 28,000 military personnel here, to deter or defeat any repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion of the South. Those forces play a key role in enforcing the 1953 Korean War armistice which established the border demilitarized zone, or DMZ.

Gates says the Korean-American alliance remains as necessary and relevant as ever.

"We face a serious adversary across the DMZ in the North," Gates said. "That is why we have this alliance...We will stay prepared and stay equipped to be able to deal with any potential threat."

North Korea stations more than a million troops along its border with South Korea. It also maintains hundreds of offensive artillery and short-range missile batteries. Nonetheless, experts widely agree the impoverished North is vastly outmatched in technology and resources by the South's 670,000 strong military, backed by the United States.

Under the present terms of the alliance, Washington would control South Korean forces in the case of a resumed Korean War. South Korea is scheduled to regain wartime command of its own forces in 2012. The United States and South Korea froze plans to reduce American troop levels down to 25,000 after newly elected South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met with U.S. President George Bush in April. The conservative Mr. Lee has called for strengthening the alliance.

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