U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated Wednesday that the U.S. will not only maintain its military presence in the Pacific region, but strengthen it, dismissing speculation over a possible troop drawdown in South Korea.
The new American defense chief made the remarks during his meeting with U.S. troops in Seoul. He arrived here in the afternoon as part of his first Asian tour that includes Indonesia and Japan.
“The message I brought throughout this region is that we will remain a Pacific power. We will maintain force projection in the Pacific. This is an important region in the world and the U.S. isn’t going anywhere,” Panetta told a gathering of some 300 U.S. military personnel and Korean soldiers at Yongsang Garrison in central Seoul.
“(We will) not only maintain our presence, (but will) strengthen our presence in the Pacific region. The only way we can do that is the strength of the men and women like you, who are willing to serve and willing to defend our nation and the Republic of Korea.”
Speculation abounded here that the U.S. might cut its troop level as its defense budget faces cuts of up to $350 billion over the next decade. The U.S. currently stations 28,500 troops here mainly as deterrence against North Korea.
“We are not going to allow a hollowing out of our force. In the past, when we came out of World War I and II, Korea, when we came out of Vietnam and the fall of the Soviet Union, when reduction remained in defense, those cuts were made across the board,” he said.
“The result was we hollowed out our force. We weakened the U.S. and the U.S. ability to provide strong defense. We are not going to make that mistake.”
On Friday, Panetta and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin will hold their annual Security Consultative Meeting to discuss regional security and pending bilateral military alliance issues.
During his three-day schedule, he is to visit the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, a national cemetery in Seoul and the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
- U.S. to Keep Strong Presence in Pacific, Panetta Says (New York Times) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)